As with any football manager in the history of everything, feelings
about Kenny Jackett have been mixed. On paper (ie Chris Salter's
tables), Jackett has been a successful manager. But, as every tired
journalist delights in telling us, football isn't played on paper. And
that's where Kenny fell down.
Let's look at the circumstances. Watford were relegated, mainly
under Glenn Roeder, and it was widely agreed that we deserved to go
down. That means that the team simply was not good enough. Graham Taylor
came back and, for a couple of incredible weeks, it looked like we could
just do the impossible and escape. But we didn't, and Watford were
relegated. Looking at it in this way, the optimism at the start of the
1996/7 season seems almost unwarranted. Kenny adopted virtually the same
squad as the one which was deservedly relegated from Division One, minus
one key defender (Holdsworth) and effectively our only inspiring
midfielder (Ramage), and gaining only a reserve keeper, Alec
Chamberlain. So why did we all expect him to do so well?
1) The period under Graham Taylor, in which we won several vital games on
the trot (though it has been ignored that these were nearly all against
teams who had no reason to be motivated).
2) Elton John 'on the horizon' convinced many fans that the major factor
that had been hindering us in the recent past - Jack Petchey - was now
gone. He wasn't: he was as bad, as vindictive and as negative as ever.
3) We all thought Division Two was shite. Even those sounding the
warning "it's going to be hard" followed this up with "but I think we
can do it". The first game of the season, however good the feeling was,
did not help one bit regards the attitudes of fans, players and manager
Division Two is shite, but in a way like... like... like when you're
next into bat in a cricket match, and this bowler is chucking dollies
down at your batsman, and he's missing them every time. You're saying
"oh my God, this bloke's awful, I'll spank him all over the ground", but
then when you get out there you realise that, crap though this bowler
may be, you just can't get him away, and you get out for 5. Well, that
was Watford under Kenny Jackett. Luton were good. Crewe were decent.
Bury were okay. But just think about everyone else - teams that we lost to
and never looked like beating. That's the true story of last season - we
didn't deserve to get promoted.
Chris Salter's manager league tables make Jackett out to be one of the
best Watford managers of all time in terms of games won, drawn and lost.
I don't think anyone would claim that to be the case, but can we expect
it to be? Kenny was given one season in which to turn a relegated team
into automatic promotion candidates. We cannot possibly make a judgment
on his period as manager after just one year. It has been frequently
pointed out that Alex (NOT ALEC, BRIAN MOORE!) Ferguson experienced four
lean years at Manchester United before leading them to success. Maybe if
Watford were to give their managers that long to get things right we
might be more stable and successful. It seems the case that Jackett is
just in waiting anyway - playing assistant to Taylor (who has kept his
Chairman-like General Manager role) until he takes over as team manager
in, say, five years' time.
Then there's the conspiracy theory. It goes like this: Jackett was used
as a 'duffer', wittingly or otherwise, under whom Watford would not get
promoted. Meanwhile, the ownership situation would be sorted out, with
Elton and chums paying a lower price for the club as a consequence of
not getting promoted. Then Graham Taylor would come in to take us up the
next season. Evidence for this comes from the team's capitulation from
level-top to 13th in a matter of weeks at the end of the season, and
from the fact that not once did Graham Taylor confidently talk about
getting immediate promotion. Personally, I don't subscribe to this
theory, but it certainly worked kindly for the consortium. From an
initial valuation of £12 million, they eventually paid around £4
million. But why did Taylor try to save us from relegation in the first
place, knowing that he would be resigning the next year? And would
Taylor and Jackett ("men whose hearts bleed yellow, red and black")
really sabotage progress up the Football League in favour of a lower fee
for the consortium to pay? I think not.
One thing that shines through about Kenny Jackett is that he's a
thoroughly nice bloke. It's often said of certain people, mainly by
tired journalists, that they are "too nice to be a football manager".
This has been disproved by stacks of top managers but, with Kenny, I
think there's an element of truth in it. It was like he didn't have the
ruthlessness to tell people like Ramage to get their act together like
Taylor could and when the team was playing like they didn't care, he
just went on like everything was okay. It wasn't. At times (Plymouth home,
Chesterfield home etc.), the commitment on the pitch was absolutely
pathetic, and Jackett seemed incapable of doing anything about it. He
was criticised by many for his reluctance to get up during matches and
take action. Certainly, all this has something to do with the
'failure' of Kenny Jackett. But in the future, when somebody asks "what
was Kenny Jackett like then?", I hope the answer is along the lines of
"not bad, considering the circumstances", rather than the blinkered,
negative view some fans have taken.
Best buy: Stuart Slater
Worst buy: Steve Talboys
Best moments: 2-0 at home against Oxford in the Cup, 3-0 and 4-0 against Bristol City and York City in the League
Worst moments: Coma-inducing consecutive 0-0 draws at home against Gillingham and Notts County to ruin the '96 festive season