Watford have sacked manager Marco Silva after only eight months in charge, releasing an extraordinary statement claiming that the "unwarranted approach" for his services by a Premier League rival - widely believed to be Everton - was the catalyst for their surprising decision.
Goals from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez saw the Hornets slump to a 2-0 loss at Leicester City on Saturday [20 January], with such a disappointing result meaning they have now lost eight and won just one of their last 11 top-flight matches. Though still nestled in 10th place, Watford are far closer in terms of points to the bottom three (5) than they are to the top six (16).
Silva won plenty of plaudits during a five-month spell at Hull City last term despite not managing to save them from relegation and his stock was at an all-time high when a hugely encouraging start to his spell at Vicarage Road that saw Watford briefly gatecrash the top four led to strong interest from Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, who reportedly made the Portuguese his number one target to succeed Ronald Koeman.
What followed was a lengthy saga that saw Everton submit multiple compensatory offers reaching as high as £15m ($20.7m), according to The Times, before finally giving up the chase and returning to appoint the experienced Sam Allardyce.
Though Silva always seemed reluctant to address those approaches in public, Watford claim they were responsible for a "significant deterioration" in focus and results. The club, who have now confirmed ex-Malaga and Rubin Kazan coach Javi Gracia as their 10th manager in less than six years, have won three and lost eight of their 13 league matches since then.
"This has been a difficult decision and one not taken lightly," they said in the statement to confirm Silva's departure. "The club is convinced the appointment of Silva was the right one and had it not been for the unwarranted approach by a Premier League rival for his services we would have continued to prosper under his leadership.
"The catalyst for this decision is that unwarranted approach, something which the board believes has seen a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford FC has been jeopardised.
"For the security and success of the football club, the board believes it has to make a change. The club will seek to make a swift appointment and there will be no further comment until that appointment has been made."
Whether Everton intend to pursue Silva, previously linked with the likes of Porto and Crystal Palace before being hired by Watford, again in future remains to be seen, particularly after that turgid recent run.
It was initially thought that they hoped to hire second-choice option Allardyce on a deal until the end of the season before potentially going after the former Sporting CP and Olympiacos head coach again in the summer, though they eventually handed him a lucrative 18-month contract after initial talks broke down with the 63-year-old claiming that he felt unwanted.
Everton's steady improvement under Allardyce has notably stalled over recent weeks, with yesterday's 1-1 home draw with West Bromwich Albion - a match overshadowed by a horrific double leg fracture suffered by midfielder James McCarthy - meaning that the ninth-place Toffees have now gone six league games without a victory.