The Boss Files: Slaviša Jokanović

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.

To be honest, in the rolling maul of a pre-match media scrum, there was only a passing interest in the visitors.

All the fascination, ahead of Chelsea’s opening Champions League group match against Maccabi Tel Aviv, was concentrated on the Blues’ worst start to the season for nearly 30 years and the pressure building on manager José Mourinho.

The fact that Maccabi coach Slaviša Jokanović was a former Chelsea player barely seemed to merit a footnote, nor that he had won promotion to the Premier League with Watford four months earlier, let alone his achievement in reaching the main Champions League draw on away goals in the play-offs against Swiss dark horses Basel.

Politely, Jokanović went through the formalities and turned to leave the press room at Stamford Bridge.

As he did so, he looked across at yours truly, seemed to recognise a friendly face in the room and wandered over to shoot the breeze.

We spoke briefly before Slav’s Tel Aviv players laced their boots for training, and as we parted I told him: “As a journalist, congratulations on your promotion last season and for reaching the Champions League this year. And as a Watford fan, thank you.”

Jokanović took his medicine stoically with a routine 4-0 defeat the following night, but his place in the history books and affections of Hornets fans is safe. The Watford team who held their nerve on the run-in to promotion in 2015 took us on an unforgettable joyride, and he conducted the orchestra superbly.

Six months before the ‘Orns took the chequered flag on that white-knuckle ride at Brighton, and a town piled down the High Street to celebrate with the players when other results went their way, Jokanović had looked to be on thin ice after four consecutive defeats.

But he rebooted with a 5-0 romp at 10-man Fulham, and the race to the chequered flag was as enjoyable as any sprint down the home straight in this parish.

“The Championship is a crazy competition,” reflected Jokanović after a mad season in which the lead changed hands no fewer than 32 times at the top of the table – the last of them, sadly, in the 91st minute of the final game against Sheffield Wednesday.

That does not, however, remove any gloss from the breathless excitement of that helter-skelter run-in.

Personal favourites include an excitable celebration behind the wheel after Troy Deeney’s winner in the seven-goal thriller at Bolton (I was on the homeward retreat from covering West Brom v West Ham in the FA Cup); a father-and-son birthday night out in Nottingham for the 3-1 win at Forest; Craig Cathcart’s acrobatic volley against Birmingham (noisily acknowledged in the press box at Stoke); Adlène Guedioura’s eye-of-the-needle pass and Odion Ighalo’s finish at Derby on Good Friday; and Ighalo’s trademark ‘scoop’ and left-foot rocket against Middlesbrough.

That win to knock Boro off the No.1 spot on Easter Monday was the day hope turned to almost tangible belief that Jokanović was going to complete Watford’s journey to the promised land.

After Graham Taylor and Aidy Boothroyd, he was only the third manager (or Head Coach) to lead the Hornets through the skylight. The day he returns to WD18 as a visiting manager, the queue to buy him a pint will stretch halfway down Vicarage Road. Quite right, too.

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