Colney Chat | Orestis Karnezis
Tom Cleverley got tucked right into Orestis Karnezis when asked about the dress sense of the squad.
“The worst is Karnezis,” Cleverley told the My Teammates feature for the matchday programme. “He comes in and it looks like he has got dressed in the dark. He'll wear trackie bottoms with a black leather jacket and a red scarf. He just chucks it on.”
It would be unfair not to give Karnezis the right of reply. “It's only in the morning to come to training,” he said. “You cannot dress like a model then. When you come to training, you must be comfortable. Tell Tom to go out one night with me and I will show him.”
That's not a bad comeback from Karnezis. He's damn good at responding to his more serious critics, too, including those who questioned his credentials as a first-choice keeper following a difficult debut for the club. In an away game at Everton last November, it all went horribly wrong for the Greece international after he was parachuted into the thick of the action to replace the injured Heurelho Gomes.
Karnezis' response with the gloves has been emphatic, however, with a string of assured performances that show he has much more to offer than that 31-minute showing on Merseyside would suggest. The goalkeeper's fight to recover his reputation has been one of the stories of the season, and if there was an award for the year's most inspiring comeback, Karnezis would win it hands down.
In fact, his recent performances have been so good that the talk on social media is whether Gomes should even get his place back when fit again. Now that basket case of an afternoon at Goodison Park seems a long time ago. On the day it was difficult to stop the mind wandering back to that uncomfortable May weekend in 2013 when Jack Bonham came on to replace Jonathan Bond against Leeds. Like Bonham, Karnezis was also thrown into the action unexpectedly after the goalkeeper who started the match came off with a head injury. It was not the way Karnezis wanted to announce himself to the fans or to the most viewed league in the world.
Karnezis, by his own admission, was responsible for the match-turning first goal against Everton, rushing needlessly out of his area, and then staying at home when he probably should have come out for the second. He generally looked uneasy and panic spread throughout the team. Things might well have been forgotten or glossed over had Cleverley converted the late penalty, but It was typical of Karnezis' day that Cleverley put the spot-kick wide. In Karnezis' defence, it was his first game in a month and his first league game since May. He had not even been afforded a run out in the Carabao Cup.
“It's not easy [for a goalkeeper],” he said. “It's the worst position because if you don't play many games in a row, it is not easy to get inside the match and be 100 per cent ready. You are cold. One bad decision you will pay direct.”
The “bad decision” felt a little bit like Kevin Pietersen's desire to get off the mark quickly with what was termed a Red Bull single. Karnezis had only been on the field for a couple of minutes when he felt the urge to sprint out of his box and get involved when Jose Holebas looked to have everything under control.
“The position of goalkeeper here is a little bit different from the other countries," explained Karnezis. "Here a goalkeeper must play a lot out of the goal-line to help the defenders with some vertical passes or be an extra defender. You must keep an eye always on the line of the defence. That's why I came out and try to give a solution and kick the ball. Unfortunately, the decision was not the best.”
Karnezis was still coming to terms with his poor Merseyside showing when, four days later, he conceded an early penalty that sent Croatia on their way to a 4-1 World Cup qualifying win over Greece.
“It was a bad week,” said Karnezis. “In a few days we lose one game in the Premier League we should have won and we didn't go to the World Cup. It was a very bad night for most players in the national team. We didn't play as we wanted.”
Karnezis could have been forgiven for doubting himself, and wondering whether he had what it takes, but he is made of strong stuff.
“I never doubt myself,” he said. "I know who I am, I know what I can do, I believe in my skills. In football, things are not always good, you can not always win and you cannot always be happy. You must work hard for many days, for many weeks, just to receive only one moment of glory. That's why you must be calm, and stay in the earth, as we say in Greece.
“In every game we lose or we don't get points, I am disappointed. But you must be strong because life is not finished after one game. I am 32, I played more than 200 games in a high level and I know how to react, how to feel and how to get out of bad moments. I try to put the game in my mind, to think what I could have done better. I do this when I play very good and when I don't play so good. I speak with some persons I trust — my family, my agent, people that have been with me for many years. We find the solutions together. You must stay calm, keep working and things can change in one moment.”
Karnezis must have been itching for a chance to put things right, to show what he is really made of in a Watford shirt, but opportunity didn't knock again until a full 10 weeks later when Gomes went down before the Leicester game with a back problem. This time Karnezis had more time to prepare mentally for the game. He knew he was playing from the off this time, but that didn't stop the pre-match nerves jangling. This was his shot at redemption.
“I'm always nervous before the game, if we play Real Madrid or against the smallest team," he said. "I just try to prepare myself, to concentrate and do my best. It was not an easy game because I didn't have many games in my feet — I didn't even play in the cup game. This is why is it not easy to be a goalkeeper. It's a very particular position. It's not easy to come in and play good without having games. I did my best against Leicester; things for me went good, but things went bad for the team.”
The game will be remembered as Marco Silva's last in charge, but it was also the afternoon that proved Watford had signed a good'un in Karnezis, and that the goalkeeping duties were in safe hands in the absence of Gomes. After a confidence-restoring early save from Jamie Vardy, Karnezis made stops in the second half from Shinji Okazaki and Riyad Mahrez. He was blameless for the two goals. And he has not really put a foot wrong since. He was particularly commanding on an awkward night in Stoke when Watford needed their keeper to be on his mettle and made very good saves against Chelsea from Cesc Fabregas and Olivier Giroud.
It should not be a surprise when you look at his career. Watford didn't sign a rookie or someone over the hill when they took Karnezis on loan from Udinese in the summer. He wasn't plucked from a bar in Wales, like Gary Plumley was in 1987.
This is a goalkeeper with a pedigree — and a damn fine one at that. He has played in the white-hot Panathinaikos-Olympiakos derby, played more than 100 games in Serie A, won nearly 50 international caps, played in a World Cup and kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win for Granada against Barcelona in 2014. Lionel Messi and Co had 81 percent possession and 29 shots on that April day in 2014 but they could find no way past Karnezis. The BBC Sport report called him "inspired".
“It was a crazy game,” Karnezis said. “We needed points for staying in the league and Barcelona wanted points for winning the championship. Of course, it was not an easy game. I had many months on the bench and my first game when I returned was against Barcelona. Things went amazing on this day. We stayed in the league because of these three points and Barcelona lost the league. I had a great day and it was unforgettable day for me. It was one of best performances I ever played.”
His performance that day provided confirmation of the decision to integrate him into the Pozzo network in 2013. The family have got full use out of him since paying Panathinaikos £720,000 and he's one of only four players (Odion Ighalo, Neuton and Alex Geijo are the others) to play for all three of their clubs.
“The Pozzo family are very passionate about football,” Karnezis said. “They never miss anything and always attend to details. They want always the best for their club. They make the player feel very comfortable, to feel at home. The only thing the player must do is play football. I've now participated in their three clubs. I don't regret any of it. I'm very proud and very happy with what I have done until now. I want to do many things still as I feel like I am in my best moment.”
Isn't he just. If Karnezis continues to play like this, he can wear what he likes to training.