Time Capsules: Abdi Talks Promotion (2015)

By: Watford FC Staff

In our 'Time Capsules' series, we dive into the Watford FC archives to re-publish a classic interview from an historic matchday programme.

For our second instalment, we take a look at an interview with former Hornet Almen Abdi, from the final matchday programme of the 2014/15 season.

Abdi had scored nine goals to help the Golden Boys achieve promotion to the Premier League, and in this interview the Swiss midfielder reflects on the season and what promotion means to him and the club.

The Programme

  • Season: 2014/15
  • Match: Watford 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday
  • Date: Saturday May 2, 2015
  • Manager: Slaviša Jokanović
  • Competition: Sky Bet Football League Championship

The Article

Despite having international honours to his name with Switzerland, as well as Champions League and Serie A football at Udinese, Almen Abdi says reaching England's highest level now goes down as the pinnacle of his career.

“It means the world. Firstly, it means a lot to the club, the owner and the fans, to play next year in the Premier League. It’s what we’ve all been working hard for over the last three years, and it’s so satisfying that we’ve now finally got there,” reflected the 28-year-old, who first arrived at The Vic in the summer of 2012.

“I’ve never played in the Premier League before, but I’ve watched it a lot and it’s going to completely change things for this club and these players. It’s going to completely change our careers.

“To play against these teams who I love to watch on TV, it will be unbelievable. Coming up against top, top players and seeing how we match up against them, it will mean everything to us.

“And I’m so happy for the fans. They have been so good for us, especially this season, and they really deserve this chance to see their team in the Premier League. They are Premier League fans, that is for certain.”

He may have picked up a few frustrating injuries along the way, but Abdi’s contribution to the Hornets’ success has been typically significant – the midfield maestro has scored nine goals from 32 outings this term, a ratio which equals the 12 from 43 achieved during his maiden campaign in Hertfordshire.

But of greater pleasure to the former FC Zurich and Le Mans man is the significance of some of those strikes.

“I scored important goals against Huddersfield and Reading when we were down to 10 men, and the late one at Forest was very important. For me, it’s actually nicer to score important goals like this than to score when we win 4-0. You feel that you’ve contributed more,” said Abdi, who now has 23 goals against his Watford record.

“I think I could have scored much more, though. I've missed some chances this season, which is frustrating at the time, but I'd rather take promotion and score five goals than score 15 and not go up.

“For me it's more important how the team's doing. If I play, as long as the team is winning, I don't even mind if I score or not. Obviously if you score it's the best feeling in the world, that's the truth, but I think I'm quite satisfied how things have gone when I've played.

“I've had a couple of injuries at bad times, just little steps back which weren't easy to deal with mentally, but I think I've got stronger because of that. Thankfully I’m now fit and I came back just in time for the most important part of the season.”

Born in Kosovo in 1986, Abdi considers himself fully Swiss having made the move to Zurich with his family at just two years old. He started playing football some five years later, and the 5ft 11in midfielder says he has his dad to thank for the strides taken during his early development.

“My father was always with me everywhere, and he was the one who pushed me. He was the main factor in me getting where I am today. Whenever I played bad he was always telling me what I should do better, or if I played good he told me what I did well. He helped me a lot," said Abdi, who often played as a striker early on.

“He always loved football and he still does even now. Back then he worked a lot, but he still took time to come and see me play, no matter where it was. He still comes to watch games now but the thing is, every time he comes we lose, so I told him not to bother anymore!”

Abdi clearly impressed during those early days, earning a place within the youth ranks at 12-times Swiss Super League champions FC Zurich. The former Udinese man credits that step-up from boys' football to a mixture of good fortune and great hunger.

“I think I always had talent, but so many players have talent. Not everyone can make it as a professional football player. There are so many very good players at the age of between 10 and 16 who have big talent, but they don't make it,” he remarked.

“You need a lot of luck, you need a coach that likes you, and fortunately I had both of these things when I was young. I think I also had a lot of desire. All the parents of the other kids used to ask my parents what they gave me to eat because I always had much more power!”

Eleven years since his professional debut with Zurich, Abdi has plied a colourful trade in Switzerland, France, Italy and now England, a European journey which the attack-minded midfielder says has made him a better player.

“I always wanted to play abroad, that's just how it is when you play in Switzerland. Thankfully I have experienced many leagues in many countries, and now I'll get to experience the Premier League as well,” he said.

“It's certainly helped me as a player. I can say for sure that I'm a better player now than I was even two or three years ago, before coming to England. Experience means a lot in football and I'm a better player now because of that.

“It's also positive for my lifestyle. I've now been away from Switzerland for five-and-a-half years. Every start is difficult, it was very difficult for me when I first went to France, I couldn't speak the language, but you learn a lot. You learn how to survive alone, and that's why when I came to England it was much easier for me.

“First of all I could speak the language, and also the mentality here is great. All the players they welcome you, so it was much easier for me. From the beginning I felt welcome.”

Accustomed to playing top-flight football in Switzerland, France and Italy, Abdi still maintains that his three years in England's second tier with Watford have formed the most enjoyable part of his playing career so far.

“England has been my favourite location right from the beginning, without a question. Italy was nice and the club was great, but Udine is quite a small place so when you come from there to London it's like you've come to a different world.

“London is where I have lived since coming here, and it's just totally different. You've come from a town of 100,000 people to a big city of 10 million people, and I really like it. Also the football mentality is so different to in Italy. Here you enjoy football more than in Italy – the players, the fans, everyone in the club. When you win games it’s the best feeling, and in Italy you feel the pressure much more. It's just a mentality.

“Even now, we’ve been playing for promotion to the Premier League, which means a lot for everyone at the club, but we’ve still been relaxed. You’ve been able to feel that in the training that we do, and it helps a lot. It’s much better this way.

“The best thing is that the best is yet to come for me, when it comes to England. I cannot wait to get playing in the Premier League with Watford. This is an opportunity many players can only dream of, and I plan to take it with both hands.”

I’m so happy for the fans. They have been so good for us, especially this season, and they really deserve this chance to see their team in the Premier League. They are Premier League fans, that is for certain.
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