First Team 11/03/2017

Colney Chat | Lorenzo Libutti

By Kevin Affleck

Sometimes Lorenzo Libutti must wish he was just Walter Mazzarri's translator. Life would be much easier. His phone wouldn't ring 50 times on his day off and he wouldn't get a call from one unnamed member of the squad in the middle of the night.
"One time, a player called me from the airport at 3am," said Libutti.

"He was going on international break and had a flight at 6am. He was at Terminal 4 and called me to ask how to get to Terminal 5. These are the funny parts of my job but sometimes they are not so funny, it woke me and my baby up." 
Libutti, who is about to become a father for a second time, is often left holding the baby but you won't find him complaining. He's remarkably calm for a man who, at 26, holds a position of some prominence at the training ground at London Colney. 

His title says he's Player Liaison Officer but that only tells half the story. To say his position is broad is like saying Jose Holebas picks up the odd yellow card. He's basically one of those unsung, ego-less, seen-but-not heard types who seamlessly knits everything together. You know, the sort you can rely on to get a job done with minimal fuss. Not much goes on at the training ground without Libutti's fingerprints on it. 
His task list can leave you breathless and you wonder sometimes if there are enough hours in the day. He chairs a meeting at 8.30am every weekday with the medical staff; lets the players know what time they need to be in each day; liaises with the groundsman over which pitch the team will train on; sorts out the team hotel; arranges visas, bank accounts, accommodation and National Insurance numbers for new players and lines up scans and appointments for injured players.

Oh, and he helps facilitate the international call-ups. And that's before Walter Mazzarri leans on him for his skills as a translator.
"The translation is actually the smallest and the easiest part," he says.

"It's just translating. I'm lucky I know both languages and English is like my mother tongue. Everyone says 'Ah, there is the translator,' like they did in Sainsbury's the other day but I am not only the translator."
Such are his linguistic skills - he also speaks Spanish - that the club are paying for him to learn French in a nod to the increasing Gallic influence in the squad. "It takes me one hour to get to work because of the traffic so I do the lessons over the telephone in the morning in the car," says Libutti. "It's going very well and I can practise with the French players we have."

You suspect it won't be long before he's fluent.
Libutti had the perfect chance to test out his French when M'Baye Niang arrived. Once a deal has been struck, Libutti is the one who does all the donkey work in getting a new signing down to the training ground and is usually first to greet them when they rock up in the car park at UCL. 
"It all starts before the player walks in the building," he says. 

"We get in contact with the player before he comes and arrange the flights. If he needs a visa, we arrange a tourist visa and then arrange a work permit. We arrange a hotel for the first month and are liaising with the agent and with the player. I'm usually the first person to see the player as I've been talking with him for the past 24-48 hours. Once he signs we then arrange the National Insurance number, bank account, telephone etc."
Some players lean on him more than others. Some would be lost without him. "He's a very important guy here, especially for a new foreign player like me," said Stefano Okaka. 

"He knows a lot of languages and is a good guy, a young guy who wants to improve himself. He does everything to help me. He helps with finding a house, paying the bills, paying the credit card or if I need something special."

However, even the resourceful Libutti wasn't able to solve the problem of Isaac Success mislaying a key travel document a day before the pre-season trip to Austria last summer. "This was a hard one to explain to the manager and the owner," said Libutti. 

"He lost his Schengen visa the night before. What can you do? The Schengen visa allows him to travel to European countries so he couldn't come to Austria. He had to stay here. You could get a Schengen visa in two or three weeks but it was impossible to get one in two or three days."
Securing visas is perhaps the most important part of what Libutti does. "Mr Pozzo wants the visa as soon as possible so the player is ready to play the next game," he says. 

"Normally it takes one week but we want everything in three days. We have to act as fast as possible. It's challenging but it's entertaining."
Libutti struggled to see the funny side of an incident on the eve of an away game this season. "The fire alarm went off the night before the game at Bournemouth," he says. 

"Apparently it was a Bournemouth fan who set it off. It was chaos as we had to stand outside in the car park at midnight."
Then there was the time Miguel Britos' wife gave birth to their second child on the morning of the game. 

"I went with him immediately to the hospital and we had to relax Britos and tell him his wife was in good hands. It was such a rush that we missed the bus from the hotel and took him back directly to the stadium."
Libutti is your man for a crisis, a man for all seasons. "Me, the Operations Manager [Richard Line] and the club secretary [Gayle Vowels] have to make sure everything is prepared. You can't miss a thing. You have to be organised because if you miss a thing, it can have a great repercussion. You cannot miss one single thing."
He's barely missed a trick since he was promoted from rather an unheralded role at Vicarage Road.

"I started at the stadium as a business development executive. I was coming back from Asia where I worked for three years in Thailand and China for Ducati.

"I wanted to come back to Europe and I applied for different jobs with different clubs but Watford was the one who gave me the opportunity. After only three months, this opportunity [of Player Liaison Officer] came up. They were looking for someone who spoke Spanish, Italian and English. I took it, as I thought it would be a good opportunity."
It's developed into something different, something much more all-encompassing and all-consuming but he's loving every minute of it.

"It's a great job," he said. "I like it as I'm learning a lot. I think I can help the club and I feel part of it."
Part of it? He's central to it.

First Team 09/03/2017

Colney Chat | Tommie Hoban

By Kevin Affleck

Tommie Hoban could be forgiven for wondering if he's run over a black cat. He's certainly not been having a party, in the words of the song.
The one-of-our-own defender must have thought he had his fair share of long-term injuries when he underwent complex surgery to solve an ankle problem in 2013. He also, just to top off that wretched period, contracted an infection post-surgery that knocked him for six. But oh no, there was more mis-fortune around the corner when he had to undergo the knife once more, this time to repair a groin-stomach issue in October 2015, the recovery from which took way longer than he or the medics anticipated. 

It was hoped a change in scenery, and a loan move to Blackburn Rovers this season, would bring about a change in luck but that theory went out straight out the window when he crashed to the ground in the final training session before Rovers' home game with Wolves in October. 
"We were doing set-pieces and I ran to attack a ball and my arm got caught behind me," Hoban recalls. "I think someone might have grabbed it a little bit. I dropped to the floor and had never experienced pain like it."

That is some statement when you consider this is someone who had his ankle drilled and shaved nearly four years ago. The following detail is enough to make you wince. 
"The physios were yanking my arm about and trying to get it back in and they managed to get it back in at the last attempt before the ambulance arrived," he said. "It was the biggest relief ever."
Hoban was taken to hospital and although there was relief that nothing was broken, he had obviously dislocated the joint and torn all the ligaments that hold the shoulder in place. It certainly provided a challenge for the surgeon in Italy.
"The labrum, that holds the shoulder in place, had done a 360 and was badly torn," Hoban says. "The surgeon screwed into the bone to anchor down the labrum and hold it in place. It was very, very painful and the first week, I could hardly even sleep. It was ridiculously painful. They were tough times to get through."
It would be unfair to call Hoban injury-prone. He isn't, after all, one of those players who picks up little niggles and is out with a strain here or a tweak there. When he's injured, he's properly injured.
"Muscular wise I seem to be quite good," he said, "it's just I keep picking up strange injuries and have been a bit unlucky. There is no point dwelling on it. It is what it is. I've just got to work hard and keep fit as I can. I know I can play – I've just got to have the mindset that I'm due a good run without injuries."
He's certainly put the rehabilitation work in, doing two sessions a day at Isokenetic London in Marylebone for seven weeks before continuing his recovery back at Blackburn. He's now fit and available for selection. The shoulder injury came just as he was putting together his best run of games since the Championship-winning season.

"I was happy," he said of the 10-game spell at the start of the season. "Results weren't the best at times but I felt like I was playing well. I was fit and strong."
Another period on the sidelines has, unsurprisingly, challenged him mentally. "I'd be lying if I said there weren't low moments," he said "The first four weeks after the shoulder surgery were very tough as I couldn't move my arm and couldn't do any exercise. But I just think about good times I've had, like getting promoted."
Hoban is only 23 but seems to have been around for ages. He is one of just four players from the promotion-winning season still on the club's books and he remains confident he can fulfil his Premier League ambitions with the Hornets.
"I want my future to be at Watford," he says. "I haven't spoken with Watford about their long-term plans for me but I'm confident in my ability.
“I know the player that I am and can be, and I feel I can play in this Watford team. I'm hopeful that if I get a chance I can take it and stay in the team. I love the club and it's been my home since I was 14. I'm fully focussed on getting back in the frame here."
There are plenty willing him to do so, that's for sure.