How Cleverley Could Bring Stability to Watford

Tom Cleverley scores a goal

A 2-1 defeat to Coventry on 9th March, 2024 proved the final straw for Valerin Ismael who was relieved of his duties as Watford manager. Sackings at Vicarage Road have been so common in recent years that Ismael was the 10th permanent manager since the firing of Javi Gracia in September 2019. After letting the Spaniard go, no Watford manager had been able to reach the 50-game mark across all competitions.

It is clear at this stage that the hire-and-fire approach is not working for the Hornets. Not only is it expensive but it means the club lacks the kind of stability that would improve their chance of getting out the Championship. Could the newly permanently appointed Tom Cleverley be the solution the Hornets have been looking for all this time? A popular figure at the club, there is some hope that he might be able to put a stop to the revolving door of new managers. It could be wishful thinking, but could Cleverley be the man to bring just a little stability to the club?

Yes – Cleverley Can Bring Stability

Tom Cleverley in action
Tommy Low | Wikipedia

So many managers at Watford have tried and failed, sacked long before their contracts were due to expire. So why would Cleverley be any different from the rest? Well, there are a few reasons to think that the former Hornets skipper may be an exception to the rule. For one, he already knows the club inside out and has great relationships with the players and staff. It is said many managers are on borrowed time whenever they lose the dressing room but for Cleverley, the chances of this seem less than they would be for a complete outsider.

Watford Alum

The Basingstoke-born midfielder first played for Watford in 2009 but permanently signed for the club, after a couple of loan spells, in the summer of 2017. Retiring six years later with over 180 Watford appearances, he is a man with a real connection to the club and this resonates with the fans. This can be a useful asset to any manager as it is easier to get results when the fans are behind you, creating an atmosphere of optimism. Vicarage Road has not been a fortress for some time but with a well-liked manager the crowd can unite behind, there is a hope this may change.

Manager Experience

The other thing to remember about Cleverely is that he is not someone without any managerial experience. When retiring as a player in July 2023, he took a job as the coach of the U18s squad at Watford, guiding them to the semi-finals of the Professional Development League Cup. Collecting many plaudits for what he was doing, he was shortlisted for the senior team job when Ismael was suffering through the rough patch of form that ultimately brought him down.


According to The Athletic, one agent who was familiar with his youth coaching called him “open and approachable” while a staff member called him “smart and a team player”. Additionally, there is a general feeling the ex-Watford skipper is generally well-liked at the club. Part of the reason for this is the importance he places on man management. After a conversation with a former boss of his own, Sir Alex Ferguson, this drilled home the importance of keeping players happy. In Cleverley’s own words, “Football is not just about 11 players. You need harmony from a full squad. He was a genius at doing that.”

Coaching Ambition

Saying the right things and being well-liked is far from any guarantee of success of course. He is not the first manager to bring optimistic energy nor begin a managerial stint with the backing of players and staff. Cleverley does seem to have a little more drive than some other managers though. Fuelled by a lack of big achievements as a player, he explained in an interview with BBC Sport how he sees management as his opportunity to put things right.

These are not just words empty either. Cleverley has been involved with the Manchester United and England management groups, taking part in various presentations. Additionally, he was very quick to begin his coaching badges, starting them six years earlier, so clearly this has been an ambition of the former England player for some time.

Only time will tell if the move works out but Cleverley’s reputation and what he did for Watford as a player may see him afford more patience than most Watford managers enjoy. He will also benefit from some relatively tempered expectations following a 15th-place finish in the 2023/24 season. No doubt some improvements will be demanded but Gino Pozzo will surely not be requiring anything too transformational from a first full season in charge.

No – Cleverley Cannot Bring Stability

Tom Cleverley signing memorabilia
apasciuto | Flickr

Of course, there are two sides to every coin and it seems only fair to argue both sides here as there are certainly no guarantees in football. For all the good feeling about Cleverley’s positive appointment, there is a chance it could all turn sour and he could be gone before 50 games just like the 10 managers before him.

Early Records Unimpressive

For one, he hardly oversaw massive improvements during his first nine games in charge. Although the Hornets only lost twice, they only won as many games. With one victory coming against relegated Birmingham and the other against 16th-place Sunderland, it is not the most impressive of early records.

Lack of Funding

Cleverley will unlikely to have much in the way of funds to bolster his squad. For the 2022/23 season the Hornets recorded a €52m transfer profit and the season before the figure stood at €42m. Due to this, it would appear the club is prioritising balancing the books over strengthening the squad with big-money transfers. This makes more sense when you remember that Watford’s Premier League parachute payments have come to an end. The Hornets only received two year’s worth of payments because they were relegated after just one season.

The situation may change if the club can attract investment, something they are actively looking for, but if this does not come, lots of transfer activity seems unlikely. This may be a problem particularly upfront as Cleverley may find himself without a decent source of goals. Mileta Rajovic was the only player to hit double figures (11) across all competitions in 2023/24 and there were zero assists alongside this.

No Senior Manager Experience

Then of course you have Cleverley’s lack of senior managerial experience combined with notoriously impatient owners. Yes, the Watford powers that be are likely to give Cleverley more leeway than former managers but how far will this goodwill extend? Not to a huge extent we have to imagine. Young managers need time to learn, grow and improve and history suggests Watford are one of the least nurturing clubs out there.

Only Time Will Tell…

Ambitious, cheap and with strong club ties, the appointment of Tom Clevelry as Watford manager appears a relatively shrewd one. Whether he makes it till the end of the 2024/25 season remains to be seen though. In our view, he has a better chance than most of bringing some stability to the club but it is hard to be bullish about his chances of sticking around Vicarage Road for an especially long time.