When the nominees for Premier League Manager of the Season were announced, few would have been surprised at the names on the list. Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp have battled for the title all season, Mauricio Pochettino looks to have secured a top four place despite not signing a single player in the summer, and Nuno Espirito Santo has led newly-promoted Wolves to seventh place.
While no one can doubt any of these managers' achievements, there was one glaring omission from the list - Watford's Javi Gracia.
Granted, the Hornets' position in tenth may not be as eye catching as those further up the table, but a bit of context shows just how well Gracia has done.
Watford face 11th-placed West Ham on the final day of a season, and a win will seal the club's first ever top half Premier League finish. Even if Gracia's side lose to the Hammers, the 11th spot they'll finish in will still be the club's highest league finish since the formation of the Premier League.
Guardiola and Klopp have performed excellently this season, but that should be the minimum expectation for coaches who possess world class squads and have spent hundreds of millions during their relatively short spells in charge.
Yet while Guardiola purchased Riyad Mahrez for £67m and Klopp spent £56m on Alisson last summer, Gracia's largest outlay was the £11.5m spent making Gerard Deulofeu's loan move permanent. Andre Gray remains the club's record signing for £18.5m.
Gracia also had to deal with the departure of one of his best players when Richarlison transferred to Everton for £50m. The fact that Watford haven't missed the Brazilian is a testament to Gracia's ability.
The manager has gotten the best out of the talented but previously inconsistent Deulofeu, the Spaniard being Watford's joint top Premier League scorer with nine goals.
It's not just the big guns that have outspent Watford, either. The likes of West Ham, Leicester City and Everton have all spent considerably more in recent years, yet sit just points apart from the Hornets. Newly promoted Wolves also spent far more Gracia's side this summer and completed the permanent signing on Raul Jiménez for £30m in April.
The most surprising nominee is without doubt Pochettino. Yes, the Argentine didn't spend any money last summer, but he's still able to call on the likes of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min. Yet despite the talent at his disposal, Spurs have suffered 13 losses this season - just two less than Watford.
Those losses include defeats in their last six away matches in the Premier League - certainly not the kind of form you'd expect from the manager of the season. Not to mention Gracia's 2-1 victory over Spurs in September. In truth, it's only the poor form of Arsenal and Manchester United that has kept Spurs in the top four.
Gracia has also managed to achieve Watford's highest Premier League finish while leading his team to the FA Cup final. In a time in which managers frequently prioritise Premier League mediocrity over cup success, Gracia deserves praise for his ability to manage a sustained cup run alongside a brilliant league season.
Perhaps Gracia's biggest achievement, though, is the stability he has brought to Vicarage Road. After all, this is a club run by notoriously trigger-happy owners in the Pozzo family.
Slaviša Jokanović was sacked despite earning promotion to the Premier League, while established European coaches Quique Sánchez Flores and Walter Mazzarri both lasted just a single season at the helm. Marco Silva was sent packing in January 2018 after having his head turned by Everton, with Gracia taking the reins.
Few would have been familiar with a man whose last job was in Russia with Rubin Kazan, but the Spaniard's 16 months in charge mean he has already outlasted his predecessors. While replacing managers has been par for the course in recent seasons at Watford, the Pozzo family will no doubt look to keep hold of their coach this summer. Gracia has very much bucked the trend.
Managers of the less fashionable clubs failing to get the recognition they deserve at the end of season awards is nothing new. Tony Pulis was the last manager to win the award without claiming the league title when he led Crystal Palace to 11th place in the 2013-14 season.
Pep Guardiola won last year's award after leading City to a record points total. An outstanding achievement no doubt, but was it really more remarkable than Sean Dyche's incredible feat of taking Burnley to seventh place and European football, all on a fraction of City's budget?
This trend will no doubt continue once the winner is announced. Gracia may have unfairly missed out on his deserved recognition, but perhaps he'll go one better and show the voters just how wrong they are by defeating Guardiola's City in the FA Cup final.
Source : 90min