He has to go, doesn’t he? He probably won’t but he clearly has to.
I talk of course of course of David Wagner, but such is the state of our football club it will take more than a change of head coach to bring about the fundamental overhaul it desperately needs.
A root and branch review is required – from top to bottom – starting with the very top tier of the club, but in the here and now, if there were any doubts about David Wagner being ill-equipped to be the head coach they were dispelled last night.
Seldom have I witnessed a City team deliver such a disjointed, tepid, timid, and dysfunctional performance. This one was right up there with those delivered by rubbish City teams in the late 1990s and the Glenn Roeder Class of 2008-09.
Even when presented with a 2-0 which, let’s be fair, they did well to earn, they were unable to control a game that, if won, would have seen them win three on the bounce and allay, for now at least, any calls for the sacking of the head coach.
But even with that 2-0 lead, not at any point did they look remotely like making it three out of three, and there was a horrible inevitability to it all once Ismaël Koné had rattled one in from the edge of the box past a hapless George Long.
When Mileta Rajovic levelled for the Hornets just three minutes later, the magnificent 1,350 in the away end could have been excused for heading immediately en masse for the exits. By then, any initiative gained through going 2-0 up had been extinguished and in its place was a display of such subordination, Watford were free to do almost as they wished.
No fight, no intensity, no pressure on the ball. Just passiveness and, what appeared to be an acceptance that Watford were better and would eventually go on and win the game… which of course they did.
And Wagner’s justification? That it was down to the players being “shocked” that Hwang Ui-jo had to be substituted.
That’s right. You read that correctly. The players were apparently “shocked” that their prolific, three-goals-so-far-this-season striker had to be withdrawn because of a tight hamstring, so much so they too were hamstrung and only able to deliver a performance befitting a team with 22 tight hamstrings.
Honestly. When head coaches start trotting out drivel like that – words they themselves don’t even believe – then it really is time to say goodbye.
But it was not just the bizarre comments after the game that screamed time is up. So too the bizarre decision-making during it. There were plenty to choose from but two of the most glaring were…
- Opting to replace a striker (Adam Idah) with a midfielder (Liam Gibbs) when in desperate need of a goal and citing the extra pace that Gibbs brings as justification. The same Liam Gibbs who has probably never played as an out-and-out striker in his whole career.
- Keeping Onel Hernandez on the pitch for the full 96 minutes when, in his current form, it would be hard to justify him being on the pitch for 96 seconds. As much as we all love Onel the character, Onel the footballer should be nowhere near this starting XI.
The calls for Borja Sainz to start have been getting louder by the game and, while all we are basing this on is one good goal in the cup game at Fulham and a few half-decent cameos, he at least deserves a chance. To see Hernandez continually start and then fail to deliver can be doing little for the Spaniard’s morale.
He may not be the answer – he probably isn’t – but he deserves to be given the opportunity. It is not as if this team is bursting with creativity and craft.
In short, there was absolutely nothing in this performance to suggest that Wagners deserves the chance to put right all of the many wrongs at Ashton Gate on Sunday.
This now has turned into a massive test for Ben Knapper. To everyone outside the club, it is very clear that Wagner’s race is run and he has nothing left to offer aside from gobbledygook and muddled thinking. But those in the inner sanctum will be giving Master Knapper a very different message – one based on sentiment and not much else.
But throw into that mix the fact that Knapper’s CV suggests he has not been in a position to hire and fire before now – certainly on a level that he is now being asked to. I am not even sure that management of individuals has played a big part in his career to date, where he has mastered mainly in data analytics and managing loan players.
So, this, for him, is one massive call. And there is more at play here in terms of what type of sporting director he is going to be or, at least, how he sees himself.
If he decides to take the Delia and Michael route and continue to assure Wagner that, despite him not doing his job at all well, he still has his full support, then those who fear that Knapper is here as a patsy for the owners will have their worst fears confirmed.
If, on the other hand, he ignores pressure from the owners to judge Wagner gently, and pulls the trigger, it will demonstrate to the outside world that he is his own man and will make decisions as he sees fit and to the longer-term benefit of the football club.
What is it to be Mr Knapper? Over to you.