First Team 28/03/2020

My Best: Andre Gray

By Kevin Affleck

Hornets forward talks through his best players, matches and more in a quick-fire interview...

Best player you've played with?

“That's a tough one as there have been a few, particularly at Watford, but I'm going to say Richarlison. Everyone expected this stereotypical Brazilian, full of tricks and flicks that we are all used to seeing, but he was completely different. He played like he had been playing in the Premier League for years and was just so strong and so quick. You've seen how good he is by what he's gone on to do since.”

Best player you've played against?

“Eden Hazard. I remember playing against him when I was at Burnley and you couldn't get near him. He came out and played with his laces undone and just completely ran the show. There is nothing you can do when he plays like that. You can't even take him out or make a tactical foul as he's that one or two steps ahead of everybody else.”

Best player you've seen live?

“I haven't seen many games live, but I was on the bench at Burnley when we played City and Kevin De Bruyne was unbelievable. He's the best midfielder in the league. His technical ability is on another level.”

Best captain you've player under?

“I'm going to say Jonathan Douglas when I was at Brentford. We had such a young team, with lots of players who had come from the league below and he was a proper leader for us, exactly what we needed. He pushed us and never let us get complacent even when we were doing well. He made sure we trained properly every day and you knew about it if you weren't. He was integral to what we did at Brentford.”

Best character in the dressing room?

“Fozzy. He's never negative about anything and I'm starting to get worried just how positive he is! He is always smiling, always happy and he's a breath of fresh air around the place. He's got the best attitude of anyone I've played with.”

Best game you've played in?

“The FA Cup semi-final against Wolves. I thought we were done, down and out at one point. We didn't play very well in the first half and then when they scored their second, I thought it was game over. They were all over us. So to come back and do what we did was massive. It was a very special day.”

Best coach you've worked under?

“I'd say David Weir, again when I was at Brentford. I'd jumped up a few leagues to join Brentford and he worked with me every day, pushing me to do better. He was the most hands-on coach I've ever worked with. After every game, there would be analysis for the defenders, the midfielders and the strikers and the conversation would be very open around the clips. It helped me a lot.”

Best friend in football?

“I try to get on with everyone so it's difficult to name one. I'm still in a WhatsApp group with about five of the lads from my Luton days. I still talk to Moses Odubajo and Nico Yennaris from my time at Brentford and I'm in touch with a lot of the boys at Burnley. Then at Watford, there is Troy, Mapps, Caps, Chalo, Domingos, Clevs, Hughesy...literally everyone.” 

Best game you've been to?

“I've not been to many games when I haven't been playing, but the last game I went out of my way to go to was the FA Cup final between Man City and Wigan, the one when Ben Watson scored. I got tickets as I got player of the round when I was at Luton.”

Best atmosphere you've been involved in?

“The Wolves game at Wembley was right up there, just simply because of the amount of people there and the noise they made. But the atmosphere at Vicarage Road when I scored the winners at home against Everton, Leicester and Palace was also special.”

Best game involving the team you support?

“I don't support anyone, really. I did follow Arsenal when I was younger but that was a Thierry Henry thing. There are three games I've jumped out of my seat when watching. The Champions League final between United and Bayern Munich; the Champions League final when Drogba got the winner for Chelsea and when Barcelona came back against PSG. They were ridiculous games and finishes.”

First Team 27/03/2020

Cleverley: “The WhatsApp Group Is More Active Than Usual!”

Tom Cleverley is making the most of his extra hours at home by spending valuable time with his two young children, but insists the hard graft has not stopped as he works on maintaining his fitness for when the Premier League does eventually return.

Every first-team player had gym equipment delivered to their houses before the nationwide lockdown was enforced, and a personal training regime has been designed for each of them to help keep them in top shape.

“Obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty around everything at the minute but the priority is everyone’s health and everything the government is speaking about,” said the midfielder, speaking on Sky Sports News.

“As a footballer you just try to keep yourself in as good a shape as possible and try to stick to routines. I’m eating three meals a day at the times I usually would, and I’m training at times I usually would. Obviously, you don’t want to do too much because you don’t know when the return date is going to be, but you’ve got to just keep yourself ticking over and get yourself in shape for when we are asked to return to play.”

With the London Colney training ground closed, the 30-year-old’s daily routine has altered drastically over the past fortnight – much like the rest of the country’s. But he was full of praise for how the club prepared for the situation and vowed there is no desire to return to action before it is safe to do so.

“The club have done a really good job, to be honest,” said Cleverley. “About 10-12 days ago when it was looking as though this situation could be likely, they delivered equipment to our houses so we could set up home gyms and then they set up programmes for us. It’s been pretty self-explanatory. I do a lot of work on the bike, probably an hour every morning, and then some days I’ll do some strength work or go out for a run. The club have done a really good job to make sure it’s as easy as possible for the players to do the work to keep fit.

“On a daily basis I’m in touch with some of the lads, we have a WhatsApp group – as I’m sure most teams do – and it’s a bit more active than usual. I spoke to Craig Shakespeare yesterday and he’s just keeping us in the loop with any information he can give us. Like I say, it’s a really uncertain time but there are other priorities like keeping our families safe and abiding by the rules that are more important than football right now.”

Cleverley recently set up a new Instagram page and said he has noticed the various social media challenges doing the rounds with footballers and supporters – but he hasn’t taken part himself just yet.

“I’ve got two kids under six, so that’s my challenge – to keep them occupied all day!” he said. “But there’s been some good stuff on social media, not only the fun stuff you see but also some of the donations that top athletes are making. I think it’s good to see everyone rallying round each other at these tough times.

“It’s taken me back to my own childhood really. I set swing ball up in the garden yesterday, I’m teaching one of them to ride his bike and the other one to do his laces. It’s all stuff I wouldn’t usually have the time to do, so I’m cracking on with that.”

When football resumes, the Hornets will go into the final nine games looking to continue the resurgence under Nigel Pearson which has taken them from the foot of the table up to 17th place.

“Ever since the start [when Pearson arrived], we understood what the manager wanted from us,” said Cleverley. “He got us back to basics, but doing those very well, training levels and timekeeping and everything. He’s really got us back to basics and the results have obviously helped everyone gain confidence.

“We’ve got ourselves back in the mix but when the season does restart, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. As a squad we believe we’ve got the players, the attitude and the work ethic to get ourselves out of the situation we’ve found ourselves in. We have to stay confident and work as hard as possible when we get back to it.”

To find out more about the fitness regimes given to the Watford FC first-team players, read our interview with Fitness Coach Victor Cervera HERE.