Former colleagues and friends of Nick Cox have paid tribute to Watford’s head of academy after it was confirmed he will leave the club at the end of this month.
Cox has been at Watford for 11 years and worked his way up from a part-time coach with the club’s community trust to leading the Hornets’ much-respected academy for the last two years.
The Watford Observer became aware of Cox’s pending departure last week and it was confirmed on Monday morning that he will be leaving at the end of November.
There were considerable rumours Cox was heading to Sheffield United but we understand he has yet to decide where his future lies as there are other offers.
We also understand his decision to leave Vicarage Road is not due to the downgrading of the academy or any other club-related decision and it is a personal one as he wants a new challenge.
Cox will be replaced by the current assistant academy manager Chris McGuane and Cox believes the club’s youngsters are in safe hands.
“Working at Watford is the perfect football upbringing,” Cox said.
“I’m very proud of my time at the club and particularly the role I played in creating and developing The Harefield Academy partnership, something which is still unique in English football.”
“Watford has always been a fantastic place for young players to develop – and that will continue to be the case, I have no doubt,” he added.
“I’m leaving behind an excellent group of staff. With Chris (McGuane) stepping into the role, the Academy is in very capable hands.
“You won’t find people better at serving young people anywhere, and I thank them for their unswerving support during my time serving the club,” explained Cox.
“The new ownership team have been very supportive of the academy during the brief time I’ve worked with them. They have recently made it clear that its future will be safe-guarded and developed, and that is just as it should be at a club like Watford.”
Cox, who has witnessed almost 40 academy players make their debut for the club, was also liked among the players, many of whom were coached by him.
Jonathan Bond joined Watford as a ten-year-old and has since gone on to become a regular member of the first-team squad in recent years.
Bond said: “I have worked with Nick since I joined the club as a youngster and he has been hugely influential in my life and has always been there for me.
“He would always try to help me and the other boys and no one has a bad word to say about him.
“Whether it was with football, at Harefield or personal problems, Nick would always try to help and he has a nice way about him – you are comfortable talking to him.
“I class him as a good friend and I really like him because I know him so well now.
“All the boys feel the same and we are all sad to see him leaving. But we also know he will go on to achieve good things in football.”
Two of Cox’s former colleagues have also praised the impact he has made at the Hornets.
Watford’s former football director Ross Wilson worked very closely with Cox during his time at Vicarage Road.
He said: “Nick has been at Watford in excess of ten years and he made a massive contribution to the whole club, not just the academy. He is a hugely popular person at Vicarage Road and London Colney.
“I had a fantastic relationship with him and he has a great passion for not only developing players but for Watford as a club.
“It was a difficult test at Watford at times but he helped with that challenge greatly and he made my time at Watford so much easier.
“If fans look at the calibre of players coming through the academy then you can understand the work he did. He played a major part in the relationship with Harefield and that has made a big contribution to the club.
“I was delighted to have worked with him and I still speak to him on a daily basis. He wasn’t just a colleague, he is a friend and I am not the only one at the club that feels that way.
“I am sure he will have a great career and he won’t be short of offers. I know having spoken to him that it was a difficult decision to leave as it is a club that is close to his heart.”
Cox worked his way up the ranks and, as such, worked with a number of the players throughout several age groups.
Former Watford manager Malky Mackay added: “He was at the club a long time and was a popular figure.
“He was involved with everything that went on surrounding the academy at that time and he was a really good person for the club to have around the place.
“He would often act as a conduit with the parents and represented the club very well. He would ensure the parents knew what the club were about and put them at ease about how seriously we took our duty of care for their children.
“We were giving first-year scholars like Sean Murray and Tommie Hoban their debuts and at that point he was involved with the Under-18s so he helped provide good continuity for these boys.
“I was delighted for him when he got the top academy job and it also provided good continuity for the club.”
That was a term which new technical director Gian Luca Nani used when explaining the decision to appoint McGuane as Cox’s replacement.
McGuane joined five years ago as skills coach for six to 12 year olds and he was was quickly promoted to assistant academy manager for six to 11 year olds.
Nani said: “I am very sorry to see Nick go but I fully respect his decision – just as I fully respect all of his achievements with the Watford academy.
“As I said at the Fans’ Forum recently, it is an amazing set-up. You only have to look at the current first-team squad to see how highly the academy here is thought of.
“Of course we wish Nick every success and we are sure Chris will do just as fantastic a job going forward.
“We carried out an extensive search and interview process to replace Nick and Chris was the outstanding candidate.
“We are delighted to make an internal appointment, similar to how Nick rose through the ranks, which will provide continuity and build on the excellent work already done at the academy.”