Pictured left to right: Iñigo Arteaga, Juan Solla, Javi Gracia, Jesús Casas, Zigor Aranalde.
Watford’s Head Coach Javi Gracia has moved to appoint four new members of coaching staff to his backroom team.
Zigor Aranalde, Jesús Casas and Juan Solla have each joined the club as Assistant Coach, while Iñigo Arteaga has been named Goalkeeping Coach.
Aranalde brings a wealth of experience within the English game having featured for the likes of Walsall, Sheffield Wednesday and Carlisle United as a player.
The 44-year-old has also filled senior scouting positions with Brighton and West Brom, and was previously on the coaching staff at Spanish outfit Albacete.
Casas, 44, spent three years at Barcelona, working as part of Luis Enrique’s coaching setup, and was most recently on the staff at Cádiz, a club for whom he also featured as a player.
Meanwhile, 42-year-old Solla comes to Watford having coached alongside Gracia with the likes of Cádiz, Villarreal B, Malaga and Rubin Kazan.
Arteaga has filled the Goalkeeping Coach position for Gracia at clubs including Cádiz, Villarreal B, Olympiakos Volou, Kerkyra, Almeria, Osasuna, Malaga and Rubin Kazan, and the 45-year-old also played in goal for Real Sociedad among others.
Getting To Know | Javi Gracia
By Kevin Affleck
What football experts Sid Lowe and Guillem Balague don't know about Spanish football isn't worth knowing, so when they talk about the credentials of Watford's new head coach, Javi Gracia, it's well worth listening.
“Pleased for him,” tweeted Sid Lowe. “A brilliant manager.”
Praise indeed given the number of managers Lowe has seen at work first hand.
Balague, who is also a UEFA B qualified coach, went even further. “Meticulous, strong personality, tactically savvy,” he tweeted. “He deserves this chance. He speaks English and has been working at it.”
It seems Gracia has been preparing for his big break in English football for a while and he's certainly earned his spurs and done his apprenticeship. He's got quite a reputation in Spain and there is a lot of goodwill towards him.
The stand-out moment on the CV of the 47-year-old is unquestionably that famous 1-0 win over all-conquering Barcelona in 2015, the year Barca swept all before them to win the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa Del Rey, becoming the first side to win the domestic treble twice. But they couldn't beat Gracia's Malaga.
Barca only dropped 18 points in the league yet five of them came against Gracia's unheralded Malaga. Barca scored 110 league goals that season but they twice drew a blank against Malaga who restricted Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez to just three shots on target across the two meetings, some feat. Gracia was director of operations and showed he was able to convince his players to buy into his gameplan, his vision. He had them believing they could do what few others managed that season.
In the first meeting Malaga picked up a creditable goalless draw at home, ending Barca's five-match winning start. But they went one better at fortress Camp Nou, pulling off a famous and unlikely 1-0 win. Either side of that Barca won 20 games on the spin. That's how dominant they were. But Malaga's win was not an accident. It was no fluke. The meticulous Gracia had done his homework.
“We did different things in different moments,” he said in a interview with The Guardian. “In certain moments, it is important to drop to a low block but this has to be done all together as a team. It is important to remember not to stay too deep. In other moments it is important to press, but the really important thing is to press as an entire team.
“The spaces in the central zone have to be closed down because that is the area where Barcelona can really hurt you. So we looked to close down that space and, of course, we tried our very best to press as much as possible when Lionel Messi got the ball. We prepared very well and got good results by doing it that way.”
Those are the words of someone who eats, sleeps and breaths football. Gracia's analysis of games and ability to find solutions in order to collect results is, arguably, his biggest strength and one which has served him well in a wide-ranging career which has see him manage ten clubs and taken him to four countries. Adaption is clearly one of his maxims.
“I’ve taught myself to see games and see things that are useful to me,” he said in another interview with the same publication. “I see the back four, which way they move, where they try to get superiority, where the plays build from, I’m constantly looking at that. Everyone sees football their way and they’re all valid. My kids look at the colours of the boots; my wife looks at their haircuts. I notice other things.”
Although he won promotion with Cadiz B and Almeria, others really started to sit up and take notice of Gracia with the impressive body of work he compiled at Malaga. He guided the Andalusians to ninth and eighth-place finishes while also reaching the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey in his first season. They have never gone further in Spain's domestic cup. They only conceded 35 goals in his first season, one more than Real Madrid. He clearly knows how to set a team up.
What makes those achievements all the more impressive is the backdrop against which they took place. Under Manuel Pellegrini, Málaga had been moments away from the Champions League semi-finals two years earlier when they were dramatically knocked out by Borussia Dortmund.
But owner Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani tightened the belt and, in the intervening years, out went Isco, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, Joaquín, Martín Demichelis, Jérémy Toulalan and Julio Baptista. Another, Nordin Amrabat, left la Rosaleda in the 2016 January transfer window to join Quique Sánchez Flores at Watford. Pellegrini's replacement, Bernd Schuster, only lasted a season under the austerity measures.
But that didn't faze Gracia when he accepted the job in 2014 and he met the challenge head on, extracting the best out of what he was given. He's not a cheque-book coach. He works with what he's given. The Malaga team very much became more than the sum of its parts.
Given the remit simply to survive, Gracia overachieved in establishing Malaga in the top half. As well as humbling Barça in their own backyard, Gracia's Málaga picked up a handy 2-2 draw at Atlético in his first season before holding Real twice in his second and nicking a 1-0 win over Atleti. He loves the challenge of playing against the big boys, which is just as well as Watford still have Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham to play.
Gracia, though, is quick to downplay his achievements with Málaga. There doesn't appear to be any ego. "I don’t feel like a protagonist; just a coach who prepares the games as best he can," he said in 2016.
Pellegrini would have been among the first to offer his congratulations on the job Gracia did at Malaga as the Chilean was, after all, head coach at Villarreal when Gracia served as youth team coach for the Yellow Submarine. He learned from the best. The pair remain friendly.
Interestingly, the wheels have come off at Malaga after Gracia left 18 months ago. They've gone through four managers and now prop up La Liga, so Gracia was clearly the glue that was holding things together.
Gracia decided to spread his wings and experience football in Russia last season and although things didn't go as well as he would have liked – Ruben Kazan finished ninth – he remained in demand and his stock remained high in his homeland. He's been linked with Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao and was also reportedly lined up to replace Quique Sanchez Flores had the former Watford boss moved to Stoke.
“Nobody in Spain will be surprised to see Javi Gracia back in management," wrote Spanish football expert Andy West. “ He speaks good English so that should not be a problem at Vicarage Road, and many fans in Spain will be intrigued to see how he copes in a new league.”
After a luckless, disappointing run since the end of November, Gracia sounds just what Watford need to firstly stop the rot and then kick on.