International autumn breaks are traditionally a time when struggling Premier League managers start to look nervously over their shoulders, and for good reason.
Even so, it was a surprise when Xisco Munoz got the ax last weekend with his side Watford, a passable 15th in the standings.
But of course it’s Watford and we’ve gotten used to the constantly swinging gate at Vicarage Road since Gino Pozzo took over in 2012.
Under the Italian’s reign there were 13 changes of leadership, highlighted by Billy McKinlay which lasted only eight days in 2014. McKinlay was reportedly “puzzled” by the decision.
Despite the record for layoffs, many were still surprised by Munoz’s sacking, including Munoz himself, given that he had only recently won them a promotion to the championship.
Watford had also enjoyed a reasonable start to the campaign for a newly promoted club, including wins against Aston Villa and Norwich.
But the owner saw a “negative trend” in the performance of the team. There was also an underlying feeling among Watford fans that the team was struggling and a change was needed.
This change has come in the form of the widely traveled Claudio Ranieri, who does not need to be introduced.
The 69-year-old Italian has been around a bit having managed more than 20 clubs in his time, the latest being a successful stint at Sampdoria.
He signed a two-year contract with the Hornets, although few expect him to last the distance.
The meeting was generally well received, not only among Watford fans but almost everyone who follows English football.
Most fans seem to have a soft spot for Ranieri, one of English football’s most popular foreign managers since his Chelsea debut in 2000. He even had a sausage named after him in Leicester.
However, some will note that Ranieri’s last stint in the Premier League a few seasons ago didn’t go very well. He was sacked after 17 games and Fulham was relegated.
Of course, this extraordinary 2015/16 season where Ranieri took Leicester City to the title against all odds (5,000-1 at the start of the season) will never be forgotten.
The moment he brought opera singer Andrea Bocelli to perform Nessun Dorma at the King Power Stadium at the end of the triumphant season brings tears to my eyes again.
But that’s more than this success with the Foxes. Ranieri is a charming man and has established himself as a true gentleman not only at Leicester but also at Chelsea and Fulham despite the sacking of all three clubs.
At Chelsea, his frequent rotation of players earned him the media nickname ‘Tinkerman’ and he had to ask his English tutor what that meant. He later said he was a “thinker, not a tinkerer”.
Ranieri’s struggles with the English language at Chelsea are legendary, but he worked hard to overcome them which was appreciated by fans.
He even called himself a “walking dead man” when he realized that new Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was about to fire him.
Ranieri is a man of compassion and all the proceeds of his book about his days at Chelsea, Proud man walking, visited a children’s hospital in London.
That doesn’t mean he’s a meek and will have to be pretty ruthless and make some tough decisions as he tries to sort out Watford’s many woes.
When he was at Leicester, Ranieri told the players: “Even though you can’t always play well, one thing I want is your character, your spirit.” He’s going to need all of this in Watford.
It won’t be easy and the list of immediate meetings is a nightmare.
It starts with a visit from Liverpool to Vicarage Road next Saturday, with Everton out the following week.
A home game against Southampton could provide some breathing space, but then it will be at Arsenal, home to Manchester United and Leicester.
If that’s not enough, Chelsea and Manchester City are also waiting.
If Ranieri still comes out smiling, he’ll have done remarkably well.
Munoz is the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season and certainly won’t be the last. There are several gaffers who must be feeling a little uncomfortable right now.