Editorial

Can Claudio Ranieri work his magic at Watford?

Most fans of the Premier League will be pleased to see Claudio Ranieri returning to the English top flight, with the Italian taking the reins at Watford to try and steer them to survival. After all, Ranieri provided English football with arguably its greatest ever underdog story, when Leicester City defied the Premier League odds from Betfair to win the title five years ago.

It was a fairytale story, and Ranieri won the hearts of so many football fans, but the 69-year-old’s fortunes in the Premier League have suffered since. Just months after Leicester’s title success, Ranieri was sacked from his post at the King Power Stadium, with the team flirting with the relegation zone at the time. Add to that a doomed spell at Fulham in the 2018-19 campaign, which lasted just a matter of months, and Ranieri’s stock has dropped as far as English football is concerned.

That’s why his appointment as Watford manager is being viewed as a strange decision. The Vicarage Road club are known for their tendency to chop and change when it comes to the man in the hotseat, but it’s a dramatic change of character to replace the youthful Xisco Munoz with a man of Ranieri’s age and experience.

“The board feels recent performances strongly indicate a negative trend at a time when team cohesion should be visibly improving,” read Watford’s official statement after Xisco’s dismissal, but it must be said that a total of seven points from seven matches hardly represents a catastrophic start to the season.

Watford’s board clearly felt that the Spaniard lacked the experience to keep them up, and so they have turned to the elder statesman. Ranieri’s qualifications hardly need assessing — he has managed some top clubs throughout Europe, and delivered plenty of trophies along the way — but Watford fans may need convincing that he is the right man to reverse their fortunes in the Premier League betting tips.

Of course, it’s important to look beyond Ranieri’s fortunes in English football and look at what he has done since leaving Fulham. He took charge of Sampdoria in October 2019, with the team languishing at the bottom of the Serie A table, and guided them to a 15th-placed finish.

The following season, Ranieri masterminded a top-half finish in the league (ninth), which would have been beyond the wildest dreams of most Sampdoria fans when he originally took over. The only reason he left the club was due to a disagreement with the owners over the club’s future direction.

That success story is what will have impressed Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, who have strong ties to Italian football. They clearly believe he has the quality to produce similarly solid results for Watford, who are crying out for some strong tactical leadership. Xisco was in the unenviable position of having to learn on the job, and when Premier League survival is concerned, that is quite a risk. Ranieri has a track record, even if his time at Fulham will have some Watford fans wringing their hands.

And of course, Watford’s owners may well have had dreams of Ranieri guiding the club to the kind of unlikely success he enjoyed at Leicester. If the Italian can bring some of that magic to Vicarage Road, the Hornets should be alright.

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