Xisco Muñoz at Watford: The Story So Far

On December 21, Xisco Muñoz was officially unveiled as head coach at Watford Football Club. But how has life in England fared for the Spaniard? This is his story so far.

Analysing Xisco Muñoz’s Watford Beginnings

A Month to Remember at Vicarage Road for the New Boss

With his beaming smile and characteristic charm, the 40-year-old swung the Vicarage Road doors open with gusto and confidence. He promised in his first interview with Watford’s in-house TV channel that his team would ‘fight like animals’ and show ‘commitment and respect to the shirt.’

And the early signs are he is fulfilling his word. His debut in the Championship came against leaders Norwich City. A stern test of the new managers’ credentials just five days into his reign. Yet, his Watford side produced an accomplished performance to overcome the league leaders. A solitary goal by Ismaila Sarr was enough to earn a tight 1-0 win, yet it was fully deserving. Three vital points and a clean sheet was just the tonic for the new boss.

Although the Hornets’ next game ended in a narrow defeat to fellow promotion chasers Swansea City 2-1, Watford bounced back to win their first game of 2021 – a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town courtesy of Tom Cleverley and João Pedro, which ensured back to back home victories.

And two wins would become three home wins on the bounce. Watford edged past Barnsley 1-0, thanks to a first-half penalty by captain and talisman Troy Deeney. Muñoz has turned Vicarage Road into a fortress with three consecutive clean sheets for his Hornets side.

Sandwiched in between league matters was a plucky defeat at the hands of Manchester United in the FA Cup. The Red Devils came out on top at Old Trafford by a slender 1-0. However, Watford matched their more illustrious counterparts with 18 shots to United’s 19.

The Keys to Success for Xisco Muñoz

The head coach has applied a rigid 4-4-2 formation, but his tactics bring a more attacking style of play than his predecessor. Moreover, his organisation and personality is rubbing off on his team with three wins from four league matches from his first month at the helm. The likes of Tom Cleverley are relishing a new managerial voice in the dressing room with two goals from the midfielder. Xisco will be aiming to bring the best out of his most talented players in Troy Deeney and Ismaila Sarr.

It is clear that promotion to the Premier League is the remit and anything less would be seen as a failure. It is early days, but Watford currently sit in fourth place with 43 points. The team are just three points from second-placed Swansea City and an automatic promotion place.

When he took over, Watford sat in fifth place so progress has been made. The play-off places, where Watford sit, are notoriously a dog fight. The likes of Reading, AFC Bournemouth and last season’s beaten play-off finalists Brentford all occupy the remaining spots. So the head coach will privately be targeting an automatic berth, which from his initial month in charge, is attainable.

‘Fun Training Sessions’ the New Norm

The new head coaches positivity, optimism and adopting a ‘one-of-the-lads’ approach has lifted the mood at the club. These characteristics have impressed the players with an increased application and determination in the training ground and on match day. It is something which full-back Kiko Femenía, in particular, confirmed in a recent interview with the Watford Observer:

“We’re really happy with him (Muñoz). The training sessions are really fun and enjoyable. We have lots of possession of the ball. From the previous ones, he is quite different hut now we’re really focused and happy to work with him, to implement his ideas in our group.

“He has lifted the mood totally because he’s a really positive and fun person and he’s really close to all of us, which is a great thing.”

Therefore, that buoyancy is giving Watford new energy. So if they keep this progression up, they will be one of the runners and riders in the mix for promotion come the end of the season.

The Journey of Xisco: Tbilisi to Watford

Watford’s new man arrived from an unlikely destination. His appointment arrived on the back of his successful spell in Georgia. Firstly, he spent four seasons as a player with Dinamo Tbilisi, where he won two league titles, two domestic cups and a Super Cup. He also finished up the league’s top scorer in two seasons. In the 2012/13 season, he scored 22 goals, which would be the best goalscoring total in his career.

He returned to the club in January 2019 as assistant manager, which yielded a league title after a three-year wait. Xisco would depart but return for a third spell, then as manager, in August 2020. He achieved further success by winning as manager the Georgian League Championship in December 2020. His eight wins from 11 matches were enough to reclaim their crown.

La Liga Experience

Xisco spent the majority of his playing career in his native Spain. He commenced his career with Valencia, and he was a member of the team who won both the La Liga crown and the UEFA Cup in 2003/04. This feat was achieved under the leadership of one Rafa Benitez. Xisco would go onto win the Super Cup the next season.

He featured in 194 La Liga games as a left-winger and striker, scoring 20 goals. His mainly Spanish journey took him to Recreativo de Huelva, Tenerife, Real Betis, Levante, Dinamo Tbilisi and Gimnástic de Tarragona.

Main Photo

Embed from Getty Images