Quique Sánchez Flores opens up about an emotional homecoming in his first interview since returning to Watford FC
How easy was the decision to return as Head Coach?
“It was a very easy decision. I've been a coach for 16 years and this the time I spent in Watford I was really happy. It was a good experience and this experience was amazing. I loved the way the fans love football in England, the way they support and the way they respect rules in England and everything. The moment I left I was waiting for the moment to come back to England. I feel Watford is my home.”
In your most far-fetched dreams, did you imagine a return to Vicarage Road was possible?
“You always think about how to recreate your best dream. To come back to Watford wasn't exactly a plan but it was a possibility because of my memories and the happiness. I had good people around and an amazing feeling with fans. It was really easy to say ‘yes’.”
Where were you when you received a call about returning to the club and what was your reaction?
“I was in Madrid. I'd just arrived from an experience really far [away] and I was thinking to watch football and rest and take time for my kids. It was impossible to say no. I was in my house and received a call and I was really interested to know what Watford need and if I was able to do something for them.”
How quickly did you say yes?
“In my brain, the decision was easy. I had really good memories [here] and it was easy to say [yes]. But I needed to ask about many things: how I can help the team, if I am able to do everything and if we can match. It was important to know how you are going to find the place.”
What do you say those people who say in life, not just in football, that you should never go back?
“It's not the first time [I've gone back]. The most important thing to work in a place is if you have good memories, good feeling and if the people like you to come back. At Atletico Madrid I had good feelings every day and they were like, ‘Maybe you come back one day.’ Maybe one day I go back to Valencia or to Benfica. I had good relationships and good relationships with people.”
You also returned to Getafe ten years after you left...
“They had problems in that moment five years ago and I decided to come back and the return was really, really good. I helped a lot for a short time but it was working really well.”
Much has changed at Watford, both on and off the field. What sort of shape have you found the club in on your return?
“I am very happy. I felt happy that the team kept growing and I'm happy to participate in the base of this project. Altogether, the fans, the players, the staff, to keep in the Premier League [in my first season]. It was the base for everything. Now I am happy to know the club is working very hard and Gino wants to put all the tools possible in the hands of the players and the staff. They have ambition and they want to still grow.”
The squad is changed significantly since you left three years ago: only six players are still here. How do you assess the make-up of the playing staff?
“The squad is OK. I am just learning a little bit more about the players, their ability, their skills, their mentality. All these things are interesting for the staff.”
You had one goal when you turned up in the summer of 2015: to keep the club in the Premier League. What is your mandate now?
“The priority is results. We know the schedule is really bad now, but everything is possible with a positive mentality of the players, with the fans supporting us, with the passion, everything is possible. We need to be realistic. Now we are bottom, but the first mentality is we don't want to go back. We don't want relegation. We need to put the team in the condition to keep growing. We need to be humble and the first thing is to save the situation, establish the team in a different position. Once we are established in a different position, we can talk about the next goal for this year.”
You set a lot of staff on defence, on being compact and deploying a low block. Is that still your philosophy?
“It's important. Defence is the most important thing in all the collective sports. Defence is the key for everything. If you want to attack well it is necessary to defend well. I follow a lot NBA and when Toronto Raptors won the NBA, some journalist goes to the coach and asked what is the key. He said the key was the passion and the defence. This is the base for everything. It could be good for Watford.”
You also now have some flair players to weave into your defensive pattern...
“We have young players, very fast in attack. This is interesting. We have more than we had four years ago. We had two main, Deeney and Ighalo, but... now we have more and we have different qualities and skills. We need to guess how they are working together and need to know as soon as possible how they mix in the match.”
One thing for certain is the warm reception you will receive from the fans on Sunday. How would you describe your connection with the supporters of this club?
“It's amazing. I know when I was coaching other teams, I know they still sing my name. It was completely emotional. I was really happy with that. They are still really pleased and love them. I created an amazing connection. I am not the main protagonist – that is always the players. They have to play well to win the matches, but I prefer to have this kind of contact and feeling with the fans. It's always important.”
The last time you were at Vicarage Road was for your last game in charge against Sunderland when the supporters thanked you afterwards for keeping them in the Premier League...
“I still feel emotional when I'm talking about that. You can it in see my eyes. It's like we got the objective altogether. It was like, ‘Bye but maybe come back.’ I felt that. It was a special moment and all of them (my children) still have the memories. Sometimes we talk about how happy we were, celebrating with the fans.”
Will your children, Quique, Patricia, Paulo and Jorge, be coming back any time soon?
“They said, ‘Dad we need you here but we are really happy because we know you love the Premier League and that Watford is your family.’ They say, ‘Ok, we can't wait to book the tickets to Vicarage Road.'
And finally, are you looking forward to another rendition of that song?
“The fans are really clever, they are fantastic. They know the important thing is the match, to follow and support the players. If this happens (the singing of the song), I hope it happens in the beginning as I'm a little bit shy. The focus is on Arsenal, this is the match and we want to win and say, ‘This is for the fans.’”