The Boss Files: Kenny Jackett

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.

The curtain had fallen on another Watford manager’s reign, and the grapevine was humming with delicious speculation that Graham Taylor was about to make his second coming.

With the Hornets so far adrift of dry land that passengers aboard the lifeboat could barely see the shore, it was a heartwarming prospect amid the grim reality of a relegation battle in February 1996.

The man from the Mirror was despatched to Vicarage Road, and with impeccable timing he arrived as the youth team coach – and long-time fixture at the club – pulled up in the car park with a group of academy prospects in tow on their return from the training ground.

Politely, I asked Kenny Jackett if he knew anything about the great man’s imminent return. “I don’t know anything,” he grinned. “I’m just the minibus driver.”

Before the week was out, we had our answer. Taylor was back, with Luther Blissett and Jackett as his first lieutenants. Although he was unable to complete a great escape on the last day of term, the seeds of revival had been planted.

Handing over the reins to Jackett the following season, Taylor moved ‘upstairs’ as General Manager, and the rookie boss stopped the rot.

Either side of Christmas in the 1996/97 campaign, Watford went on a 22-match unbeaten run in the league – although 15 of them were draws, which explains how they finished halfway down the Second Division table but only six points outside the play-offs.

If his baptism as a manager was a glass-half-full campaign, it gave Jackett an essential foundation in the laws of fine margins, and he absorbed the lessons expertly.

He went on to win promotion with Swansea, Millwall and Wolves, plus two near misses with Portsmouth.

In 25 years as a coach or manager, he has always applied his rule of three when scouting new recruits, and it has served him well. Athleticism, ability, application... players who ticked all three boxes were invariably a good fit for his methods.

And when you look at Jackett’s overall record in a notoriously fickle industry, it explains his longevity and why he is so widely-respected in the game.

In 910 games as a manager, he has a 44.6 per cent win ratio – which compares favourably with his revered mentor Taylor’s record of 1,384 games with a 43.06 per cent win ratio.

His work was also valued enough for ex-England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to include him in his inner circle at Manchester City.

As a player, we were proud to see Jackett become a poster boy for Watford’s golden generation of home-grown players who graduated from apprenticeship to the first team. He was born so close to Vicarage Road that he could see the floodlights from his bedroom window. No wonder the club’s scouts picked him up and took him on Hornets godfather Taylor’s magic carpet ride.

One night, as a spectator, I remember going to Wembley when England played Wales in the now-dormant Home International championship, and watching Jackett marking Blissett at set pieces.

But he remains one of the country’s most unsung club managers, delivering results almost everywhere he has worked.

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