Watford owner's fear of a relegation battle cost Gracia his job

Javi Gracia has left Watford. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Watford sacked Javi Gracia as their head coach because they feared the team had gone flat and would struggle to climb up the Premier League.

The announcement on Saturday that Gracia had been dismissed was followed just 31 minutes later by another that Quique Sanchez Flores would be returning.

Sanchez Flores was dismissed by Watford or, rather, they chose to exercise a break clause in his contract, in 2016 after just one season in charge. Although Gracia's sacking will be regarded as brutal, Watford have proved themselves decisive and successful when it comes to changing coaches.

Owner Gino Pozzo spends a lot of time at the training ground and constantly monitors performance. Removing Gracia, however, was a tough decision, given how popular the Spaniard was at the club and his achievements last season in reaching the FA Cup final.

However, while the Cup run was accepted as mitigation in a drop-off in form - with Watford losing their last four league games - the team were beaten comprehensively, 6-0, at Wembley by Manchester City, which, it is argued, appears to have affected Gracia in this campaign.

Losing their first three games set off alarm bells and while there were reports that Gracia was under pressure after the defeat by West Ham, it was actually picking up Watford's first point of the season, away to Newcastle, that sealed his fate.

Watford felt that a poor Newcastle side should have been defeated and, while Gracia had changed the team, he had not done enough. With Arsenal at home next Sunday followed by away trips to Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Watford, who are bottom, feared they were in danger of being marooned in the bottom three.

The sense at the club was that there was no momentum under Gracia. It was said he had lost some of his drive and was struggling to get the best out of the players. He remains respected and liked, and the decision to remove him was not taken lightly. It is typical of Watford's clear approach that they had already lined up Sanchez Flores.

Pozzo is known as a hard taskmaster but also an owner who will not countenance the possibility of relegation, especially with Watford having invested £31 million in a new striker, Ismaila Sarr. Indeed, there is a feeling at the club that they have actually underperformed in the league for some time given the strength of their squad and should be solidly in the top 10.

That will be the target given to Sanchez Flores, whose return is fascinating not least because, like Gracia, he was popular but was let go because it was felt the team had slipped under him in the second half of the 2015-16 season.

Although Gracia signed a four-and-a-half-year deal only last November, it is understood that there was a fixed compensation payment in his contract.