It does not take long in the company of Vladimir Ivic to realise the Watford boss is very much his own man.
“In this job it’s not a good idea to copy someone,” he tells Sky Sports after winning the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month for November.
“You can follow a lot of coaches, especially in England, as some of the top coaches in the world are here in the Premier League and in the Championship.
“It’s always good to speak with people who are experienced and have been successful and who can give you advice, but you need to have your own style in how you work and how you get your team to understand how to improve and how you want them to play.”
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A brief glance at the Championship table makes it look like bouncing back from Premier League relegation is easy. Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford are all placed in top four as we approach the halfway mark of the season, but this campaign is proving to be the exception rather than the rule.
Fulham snuck through the play-offs last season, becoming the first side in three years to secure an immediate return to the top flight.
There was some element of continuity at Norwich and Bournemouth, too. Daniel Farke has the Canaries top of the table having remained at the club, the Cherries promoted Eddie Howe’s assistant into the top job. They are second.
Ivic, however, has no experience of English football, and many of his star players were linked with a move away in the summer. He has had to drill his ideas quickly into his squad, because time is often of the essence for managers at Vicarage Road.
There have been a lot of grinding wins this season, with their 1-0 victory at Birmingham secured by a late Troy Deeney penalty on Saturday providing the perfect example of that. But for Ivic, it is always the win that counts.
“My philosophy as a manager is to win games,” he says. “It is about working day to day with my players, to speak with them and to find the best system I can to play and achieve victory in every game.
“It can be a 5-3-2, a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. Sometimes it depends on who is available to play. My favourite system is the one you can use to get the best from your squad.”
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Before arriving at Watford, Ivic had great success in Israel at Maccabi Tel Aviv, winning the Israeli Premier League in back-to-back years in 2019 and 2020 – ending a run of three seasons without the title for the most decorated club in the country. Before his arrival there, he had also won the Greek Cup with PAOK in 2017 in his first senior management role.
“It was a great time [at Maccabi]” he says. “It was my first time moving to a new country to work [as a manager]. They are the biggest club in Israel but had gone three years without winning the league before I came in, which was hard for the club and the fans.
“There were also problems with Financial Fair Play when I arrived so we co we had to work on a very small budget, and we used a lot of young players who had been on loan at other clubs in Israel.
“But the two years we had there were very successful and we won trophies. We didn’t succeed in the Europa League as I would have liked, but it was a great period and I will always remember those two years.”
Within around a month of winning his second league title, Ivic had pitched up at Watford and immediately set back trying to turn around a side that had been relegated on the final day of last season churning through three permanent managers and one caretaker in the process.
The amount of games and the coronavirus restrictions means Ivic has had little time to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of a new country so far, but his man-management style is rubbing off on the players and the most important thing to him is that things are going well on the pitch.
“I’ve not had a lot of free time because there has been a game every three or four days,” he says. “But it has been a fantastic time so far in England, and it’s been a great challenge to work in the Championship.
“It’s different here for sure. It has its own culture and its own competition. There are a lot of games and we had to get ready as quickly as possible to manage here.
“To work with new players they need to understand you and you need to understand them. I watched a lot of games before I arrived here to plan how we would play in this league. We had a lot of things to prepare to help us win games.”
What of the targets he is set for this season? Naturally, there is only one – and it is a simple message Ivic drills into his players ahead of every game.
“We have a lot of players who were relegated from the Premier League, and now they have a very good chance to show that we are a team with quality who want to fight, to give their maximum and to show we want to come back,” he says.
“We know our targets and what we want to do, and that is return to the Premier League. It won’t be easy, it’s a tough competition with a lot of games and a lot of good teams. It’s about our mentality, being ready physically and to go game by game.”
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