The Boss Files: Javi Gracia

By: Watford FC Staff

To help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Watford’s move to Vicarage Road, Daily Mirror sports writer Mike Walters recalls his encounters with those who have occupied the Hornets’ hotseat.

Only two managers, in Watford's 142-year history, have led the Hornets out at Wembley in the FA Cup final.

Graham Taylor, already gone six years but never forgotten, was the first in 1984, and Javi Gracia followed in the great man's footsteps in 2019.

What we will come to appreciate even more, as time goes by, is the fabulous job Gracia did in his 66-match reign at Vicarage Road, and how entertaining it was to follow his team that season where the trail led to Wembley.

Many of you will have joined in the Rookery chorus with the opening line, “Javi Gracia, he drinks Sangria” - and indeed he was an advocate of his native country's fruit punch. Even if he didn't drink it himself, he was happy to present a bottle to his opposite number Alan Dowson at Woking, where the Hornets' FA Cup run began in 2018/19, as a goodwill gesture.

Good-natured and refined, the Spaniard invariably brought a touch of class to his work.

When former colleague Vikki Orvice, a much-loved and regular attendee at pre-match media conferences at London Colney, lost her stupendous battle with cancer, for instance, it was Gracia who convened a minute's silence as a tribute before addressing the weekly checklist of groin strains.

He also signed my son's birthday card with a 'Vamos Watford' flourish and, as a measure of self-improvement, he always tried to work new words or turns of phrase into his English when the cameras or tape recorders were running.

Behind the engaging, diffident smile Gracia, the son of two teachers, was a stickler for punctuality, introducing £100-a-minute fines for players who were late for training - not as a big stick but to encourage a unity of purpose and respect for each other among his squad.

Above all, he will deservedly be remembered for that journey to Wembley, winning the first four games of the season (culminating in a memorable Super Sunday eclipse of Tottenham), the sense of fun he generated along the way... and a purple patch where his substitutions were coloured by genius.

In three consecutive home games, he sent Andre Gray from the bench to deliver winning goals against Everton, Leicester and Crystal Palace. Those who felt Gray never quite delivered on his transfer fee may care to reflect those three goals were worth upwards of £7 million in prize money alone.

And when the Rookery noisily serenaded a certain former Watford boss with the refrain “He's better than you, Javi Gracia, he's better than you”, the Pamplona-born Head Coach sidestepped the back-handed compliment as deftly as thrill-seekers on his home town's world-famous bull run.

Of course, Gracia's best substitution of all was to throw on Gerard Deulofeu with the Hornets 2-0 down in the Cup semi-final against Wolves.

Some of us were surprised the magic man had not been included in the starting XI - but not as startled as Wolves after Deulofeu's wonderful two-goal cameo and Troy Deeney's nerveless penalty when the hourglass was down to the last grains of sand in normal time.

We all have our reasons to be grateful for the joy of that golden comeback.

Muchas gracias, señor.

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