First Team 22/07/2019

Austria Diary: Day Seven

By Kevin Affleck

Kane Crichlow will have had plenty to tell his family and friends when he got home.

The Bermuda youth international, 18, was taken on the trip to Austria by Javi Gracia as a reward for his performances in training this summer and he will have absolutely soaked up working with, and being around, seasoned internationals and Premier League players. 

There was a lovely moment when Gracia took him aside at the end of yet another lung-busting session to give him some words of wisdom, while if he thought his tour was over when the final whistle went against Bayer Leverkusen, he had another thing coming as he and Marc Navarro were sent out to do some punishing length-of-the-pitch running before the bus departed for the airport. It was a good message to send out to the former AFC Wimbledon forward.

Crichlow was then roped into one final game of wolf by Étienne Capoue at the back of the plane bound for Luton. Troy Deeney and Andre Gray revealed in a hilarious Teammates on Tour feature that the Frenchman isn’t the best air passenger, so he probably wanted something to take his mind off the two-hour journey back to Luton. Gerard Deulofeu and Gray weren’t interested in being sucked into Capoue’s game of bluff and counter bluff, preferring instead to sit and relax but it became so exciting and reached such a crescendo that they were in the mix by the end and on tenterhooks. Nathaniel Chalobah, Stefano Okaka, Daniel Bachmann, Daryl Janmaat and Crichlow were all involved but it boiled down to a shoot-out between Capoue and Jose Quintana, from the strength and conditioning team. Montero outfoxed Capoue and the back of the plane erupted. It was like a scene on the bus back from Brighton when the team clinched promotion from the Championship in 2015.

Watford captain Troy Deeney and club-record signing Andre Gray dish the dirt on their teammates while on tour in Austria.

Watch the full feature via the Hornets’ YouTube channel below.

The weary players arrived at Salzburg airport at the same time as Istanbul Başakşehir, which threw up a Brazilian reunion for Heurelho Gomes, Robinho, Júnior Caiçara and Mossoró. There was also a Spanish reunion for Gracia and his staff with members of the SD Eibar coaching set-up as they were playing another Leverkusen-XI straight after the Hornets. 

It was fascinating to see the different habits of players on the plane. While a few got involved in Capoue’s team-bonding game, Deeney had his head buried in a book by civil rights activist Dick Gregory; the hugely likeable Adam Masina was up and down the plane like a yo-yo; Ken Sema watched a film; Isaac Success largely slept throughout while Navarro and Deulofeu were watching something with the You’ll Never Walk Alone music as part of the soundtrack. 

Everyone was glad to be back at the training ground at around 10.30pm after a demanding six days, but that didn’t stop Deeney and Gracia thanking the driver with a handshake. It was a small gesture but one that goes a long way. It was also interesting to note Harry Forster had parked his car in the overflow car park usually reserved for the Academy staff and players. The second-year pro still knows there is a lot of hard work to be done before he is at the top table, which was kind of an apt way to finish a tour where the players were shown again by Gracia that hard work is the basis for everything he does.

First Team 22/07/2019

Gracia: “To Win Is A Very Good Reward”

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia boarded the plane home from Austria with the feeling his team are heading in the right direction after they rounded off their overseas training camp with a none-too-shabby win over Bayer Leverkusen.

Leverkusen will play in the Champions League this season and fielded one of the most coveted players in Europe in Kai Havertz, but the Hornets rolled up their sleeves on an uncomfortably hot afternoon and dug out a 2-1 win, thanks to goals from Will Hughes and Andre Gray, that will reaffirm to everyone that this lot are on the right lines again under the Spanish alchemist.

“To win against this team is a very good reward for us,” said Gracia. “The result is not always important but to finish this way is something to be proud of. 

“We are playing against Leverkusen and you can see the quality of their players. They are going to play in Europe and they have an amazing squad. To compete against them is good news and is a reward for the hard work we have done this week. It’s something good for us.”

Leverkusen were easily the more progressive of the two sides, but what was so pleasing here was the clinical nature of Golden Boys’ finishing and the way they dug in at the end to hold on for the win. It was an encouraging portent for the Premier League season when you are given a real searching examination of your collective spirit and will to win. Christian Kabasele and Craig Dawson made three blocks in the first half, Heurelho Gomes made four saves in the second while Ken Sema, who came off and then back on again, kind of summed up the attitude by making a terrific recovery tackle deep in his own half at the death.

“We started well,” said Gracia. “We scored and were winning like we did in the first game [against Ajax], but now we kept our level during the whole game, defending more than attacking. We have to improve our offensive game. We know it, but to play two close games against these teams has been the best thing for us.”

Asked if he felt this represented a step up in performance and intensity levels, the Head Coach replied: “I could say yes because the result is better, but, to be honest, both are different games. In both games we tried to do good things.

“Against Ajax we conceded the second goal in the last part of the game but today we showed resilience and it’s something good for us, the behaviour of all the players, like Harry [Forster], like Ben Wilmot. They all had minutes, all showed what they can do and how they can help the team.”