Sánchez Flores accredits "good memories" with return to Watford
Photo by Getty Images/Laurence Griffiths

It's become common knowledge that Watford will not slouch when any hint of disaster is on the horizon, even if their reasons for such a trigger-happy approach are often misinterpreted. The latest victim is Javi Gracia, who was removed from his role after just under two years in charge following an alarmingly poor start to the campaign.

The Hornets currently sit at the foot of the Premier League table with a solitary point accumulated from their opening four games. Even despite the triumphs Gracia brought to Vicarage Road last season — reaching an FA Cup final and achieving the club's best top-flight finish for over 30 years — the current predicament meant that his sacking was entirely foreseeable even before the rumours began to surface.

In fact, the true element of surprise was felt when his successor was announced: Quique Sánchez Flores is returning to Watford for his second stint with the club after guiding them to safety in their first season after promotion from the EFL Championship, 2015/16. That was a memorable year in which the Hornets maintained their momentum from the previous term to achieve a 13th-placed finish, but the going could be even tougher this time around.

Sánchez Flores had few reservations over his decision to return to Hertfordshire: "It was a very easy decision, because in my whole time as a coach — 16 years now — the time I spent with Watford was really happy for me, a really good experience. All the time I say that this experience was amazing.

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"When I left I was expecting the moment when I would come back to England, and obviously Watford feels like home."

An unexpected homecoming

The reappointment of Sánchez Flores was an event which took many by surprise, and not least the Spaniard himself.

Since his first spell at Watford, the 54-year old managed Espanyol of his native Spain and Shanghai Shenhua in China. Just as he was preparing to wind down after calling time on his turn with the latter, Sánchez Flores received a phone call.

"I was in Madrid and had just arrived back from a really good experience very far away," he said. "I was thinking about watching football to reset a little bit, to take some time for my kids. But I received a call and I was really interested to know what they needed here in Watford and if I was able to work for them.

"In my brain the decision was easy because of the really good memories. But of course you need to ask about many things: how useful can I be for the team, if I am able to do everything, if everything matches. I think it's important to know your place, but now it's okay."

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Although few had been anticipating Sánchez Flores to take charge of the Watford helm for a second time, it was a prospect which remained at the back of his mind throughout the duration of the posts he has since held elsewhere.

"You always think about recuperating your best dream," the Spaniard admitted with a smile. "To come back here — exactly Watford — wasn't the plan, but it was a possibility because my memories here were of happiness, good memories, friendly people, and amazing feelings with the fans. It was very easy."

Familiar yet evolving surroundings

In the vast, cash-infested landscape of the Premier League, a seemingly infinite amount can change in the space of three years. From his previous stint with Watford, Sánchez Flores will probably recognise the crest, the lined hedgerows at the club's London Colney training ground, the stands at Vicarage Road, and a select few players and backroom staff — but, perhaps, not a great deal else.

The squad has been revamped with steep investment, as have a number of behind-the-scenes aspects, such as the facilities. Certainly, there may now be something strangely — and impressively — novel about the environment with which he should be well-acquainted.

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"I'm really happy because the club keeps growing really fast and now it's on a different level," said Sánchez Flores. "I'm very happy to have participated at the base of this whole project, because I think it was very important when altogether — fans, club, players, staff — managed to stay in the Premier League. That was the base for everything. I'm really happy to know that, after that, the club is still working hard, wanting to improve.

"I know that this is the mentality of the club: they have ambition, they want to grow, they have an unlimited vision about the progress of this club, and I think the fans will be really happy with this kind of improvement."

Looking ahead

Despite taking over in the middle of an international break, Sánchez Flores has little time to ponder how he will set about turning Watford's fortunes around — the processes of reacclimatising, analysing opponents and assessing the squad will need to be quick ones, and they are already underway.

"In this moment I'm learning about the players as individuals, their abilities, skills, mentality, all of these things. It's all very interesting for the staff."

The Spaniard has been tasked with one clear aim, which is to lead the Hornets away from a relegation dogfight later in the campaign. This is a position Watford have scarcely found themselves in since promotion, and the discomfort of the situation which ultimately led to Gracia's departure will be expected to disappear as swiftly as possible.

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It's a short-term appointment and Sánchez Flores will be entirely mindful of that, but he appreciates the role he has been given and is aware of the opportunities that come with it. This is a chance to reinstate and enhance the positive relationship he shares with all elements of the club, but it is primarily a matter of success or failure on the pitch.

"Priority? Results. We know that the schedule is really tough but in football anything is possible. With the positive mentality of the players, with the fans supporting us with their passion, I think that everything is possible.

"Right now, we need to be realistic: it is necessary to stay in the Premier League," he asserted. "We're at the bottom, so the first thought is that we don't want to go down. We need to be humble and say the first thing is to save this situation and establish the team in a better position — once we're there, we can talk about the next goal."

It was the Watford fans who warmed to Sánchez Flores more than anyone else in his previous spell at Vicarage Road, and that is a bond he will be keen to kindle once again — starting with victory over Arsenal on home turf at the weekend.

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"It's amazing. I love them. I think we have an amazing connection — the players are the protagonists because they need to play well and win the matches, but I like to have this kind of contact with the fans. It's always important.

"The fans are really clever, they are fantastic. They know that the most important thing is results and to follow and support the players. The focus we have now is on Arsenal, and what we want is to win for the fans."