Monday 21 October 2019

Javi Gracia's secrets to Watford's success: yoga, handshakes and £100 fines

Watford manager Javi Gracia. Photo: PA
Watford manager Javi Gracia. Photo: PA

Jason Burt

The improbable start enjoyed by Watford this season has been built on compulsory yoga sessions, fines of up to £100-a-minute (€112) for being late to training and three meetings a week, every week, to analyse the next opponents.

The exact time players arrive at Watford's training ground, just off the M25, is logged on an iPad at the gatehouse, just in case there is any dispute if they are fined.

Head coach Javi Gracia does not get involved - even though he is, punctually, at his desk at 7.0am every day as he prepares his squad.

Unusually in the Premier League, the Watford players work the full four days before every game and while Gracia gives them time off - those not involved in international duty have just enjoyed a long weekend - there are double sessions also.

There is lots of yoga. It, like punctuality, politeness - Gracia shakes everyone's hand every morning - and nutrition, is regarded as key for the Spaniard, who has put his stamp on Watford this season partly through a hefty fines system.

Having arrived to successfully firefight towards Premier League survival last January, the 48-year-old has become the first Watford head coach to end a season, take pre-season and be in charge of the new campaign since 2014.

"He's tough," says defender Craig Cathcart.

"This season we've got a whole new fine list. It's pretty lumpy if you are late. But if you are going to risk being late, then you deserve to be fined.

"It's £50-a-minute and then if you don't pay it, it doubles. It's a big part of it, discipline, and even the lads themselves are taking charge of it."

What else can a player be fined for? "Late for the physio, if you don't do yoga you get fined - which some of the lads aren't happy about - but these are things to help us," the 29-year-old explains.

After a perfect four wins from four, five if a Carabao Cup victory is also included, Watford are behind Liverpool and Chelsea only on goal difference at the top of the table, with a home teatime encounter tomorrow against Manchester United to come. If they win, it will be a club-record start.

Players who appeared to be on their way out or ostracised, above all captain Troy Deeney, who has lost a stone in weight, have been rehabilitated and Cathcart believes this owes much to the man-management of Gracia.

"Even if you are not in the team, no one is complaining because you know the manager is doing his best and he's a nice guy," he says.

"You can talk to him and there's no problem to knock on his door and ask 'what can I do to get in the team?'

Watford have one of the most diverse squads in terms of nationalities and Gracia does not insist everyone speaks English in the dressing-room.

However, he buys in to the Watford policy of the squad having regular team meals, away from the club and without him, and although the players set what fines are imposed for, Gracia decides on the tariff.

"The squad seems to be a lot tighter-knit this season," Cathcart says.

Despite there having been a high turnover of coaches, tellingly Watford have kept their squad and their big players together.

There are a lot of tactical meetings but, crucially, they are short and snappy. The ambitious club appear to have found the right approach with their head coach.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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