Watford have sacked Rob Edwards as their head coach and replaced him with Slaven Bilic on an 18-month contract.
The Croatian flew into London from his home in Split to agree terms as exclusively revealed by Telegraph Sport and he is expected to take charge of Watford’s next game which is away to Stoke City next Sunday. He visited Watford’s training ground on his arrival having signed his new deal.
The last international break of the year gives Watford the chance to re-set and Bilic was identified as the ideal coach to get them back on track and provide the experienced leadership for an immediate return to the Premier League.
Even though Edwards has had just 10 Championship games as head coach, Watford fear they are already losing ground at the top of the table. Acting now gives them a chance to re-organise and there is also the prolonged World Cup break in November and December which will give Bilic time to install his ideas ahead of a promotion push.
The charismatic Bilic has wanted to make a return to English football and the 54-year-old was prepared to manage in the Championship again having gained promotion with West Bromwich Albion in his previous – and only – campaign in that division in 2019-20.
In an interview with Telegraph Sport last month, Bilic, whose last managerial role was in China, said that he was not only prepared to wait for the right opportunity – he turned down the chance to take over at Greek club Olympiacos among several clubs who have approached him – but working again in the Championship was of great interest.
Bilic, who becomes Watford’s 10th manager in five years, is likely to be a popular appointment among the fans and, to begin with, has brought two assistants – fellow Croatians Danilo Butorovic and Dean Racunica who most recently worked with him at Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan and also at West Brom.
Edwards’ last game in charge was the frustrating 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland after which Watford were booed off at Vicarage Road and he said the team needed to show “fight”. It followed the 2-0 defeat away to Blackburn Rovers with the 39-year-old issuing a public apology to the fans.
The results leave Watford in 10th place in the Championship. Although that is just a point outside the play-off places, Watford’s goal this season is automatic promotion and, after a run of just one win in seven games and just three league wins this season, they are already six points adrift of second-placed Norwich City and nine off leaders Sheffield United and in fear that the team is heading in the wrong direction.
The other two relegated sides, Norwich (second) and Burnley (fourth) – also with a new manager in Vincent Kompany – are ahead of them and appear in better shape, which will have formed part of Watford’s thinking.
Owner Gino Pozzo said: "As with all decisions taken by the board, I believe this change to be in the best interests of the club. We felt Rob had enough time to show us the identity of his team, however performances haven't reflected our hopes and ambitions.Now we must move forward, and, in Slaven Bilic, we have secured the services of an experienced coach who has recent experience of promotion to the Premier League."
Having kept hold of highly-rated forwards Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro – after rejecting substantial bids from Premier League teams, including Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Everton – and invested in the squad, Watford are determined to gain automatic promotion back to the top flight at the first time following last season’s relegation and believe they have the players to do so.
Edwards has also been backed with Hamza Choudhury (from Leicester City) and Kortney Hause and Keinan Davis (both from Aston Villa) all brought in on loan from Premier League clubs.
Edwards, who took over from Roy Hodgson and agreed a two-year contract in something of a change of direction for Watford, was poached from Forest Green Rovers in the summer and appeared a surprise choice given his only managerial experience had been working in League Two for just one season, albeit gaining promotion as champions. Even then, though, Forest Green ended the campaign poorly.
They protested that negotiations with the former Wales defender were held “behind their backs” and accused Watford of “deceit”. Watford claimed in response that Edwards’ contract allowed him to leave at any point to discuss job offers, which Forest Green denied.
Bilic also managed West Ham United and enjoyed remarkable success, breaking several records including the club’s then highest-ever Premier League points total at that time (62) as they enjoyed a memorable seventh-place finish, and Europa League qualification, in their last season at Upton Park.
The former defender, and Croatia coach, is regarded as exactly the time of dynamic personality who can galvanise the Watford squad and will play an attacking style of football that suits the personnel available and please the fans.