Gracia: “I Am So Proud To Be In This Final”
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-FA Cup final press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia knows the team he will send out to face Manchester City in the final of the FA Cup and will now spend the next few days focusing on ensuring his players know the game plan inside out.
The Head Coach is yet to tell the players the XI and sometimes waits until the day of the game to reveal his hand. The players reported back for training today after a day off on Tuesday, and they will only start to figure out if they are featuring at Wembley as cup final week progresses as Gracia starts to deliver detailed instructions regarding shape and set-pieces.
"I have decided," said Gracia. "You can always change something when you are preparing for the game, but changing one player at the end of the week doesn't change my plan. I trust all of them. I was thinking many days ago about how best to defend, how best to attack and what players are better to do that. We have different options and I would like all of them to play in the final. It is not possible."
Gracia has no fresh injury concerns. Sebastian Prödl and Domingos Quina will play no part in the final because of injury and although Gerard Deulofeu trained on his own today due to a hip problem, the Head Coach expects him to be fit for the showpiece game at the home of English football.
Having as many options available as possible gives Gracia the flexibility to come up with a tactical plan to first of all keep City at bay and then go about finding a chink in their armour. The Hornets lost by a single goal at Vicarage Road and kept them at bay for half the game at the Etihad.
"We lost both games but I think we showed that we can beat them. We competed really well in both games in different moments. In the first game we lost 2-1 but we competed until the end and had chances at the end. In the second one we kept the result until the second half and then they scored from an offside position and the game changed. It was then tough for us to keep the same attitude. I think it showed us it's possible."
The match will pitch Gracia against his compatriot Pep Guardiola, who spoke after the game at the Etihad about what a smart tactician Watford's Head Coach is, referencing the 1-0 win he pulled off against Barcelona when in charge of Malaga in 2015.
"Pep is the best in the Premier, yes," said Gracia. "I think he deserves the recognition [of the LMA Manager of the Year]. He is a very good manager and we have a good relationship. I don't speak with him many times but we have a good relationship."
Born 262 days apart, Gracia, 49, and Guardiola, 48, were both deep-lying midfielders and the final is being followed even more closely in Spain as it's the man from Pamplona up against Santpedor's finest.
"We are working in this country and there are other Spanish coaches as well," Gracia said. "We have the chance to coach in the final and in Spain they speak about us because it speaks well about Spanish managers. It is the same in England with English teams in the European finals."
The final represents the pinnacle of Gracia's football career, as a player or a coach, but it is extra special as it will be the first time his mother has watched him coach in England.
"My mum is coming for the final," he said. "I haven't see her for a long time, maybe one year. It's special. I am just so proud for the club to be in this final, so proud to be at this club and so proud for the players. I feel very proud of my team. This season has been amazing. I said in other comments that the success of this season doesn't depend on the final result. My opinion is that my players deserve recognition as they have done many things well. It is only one step as we want to be more ambitious. It is not enough. We want to improve."
Gracia does not need to be told about 1984 and the final with Everton. He read up on the club before he took the job and has been thirsty for information ever since he arrived.
"I know in the past there have been some important games, but I am sure it will be a different game, with different moments and different teams," he said. "We try to show our best face and play as best as possible and have a good performance. After that we'll see if we are able to achieve the trophy.
"We try to prepare as usual. We don't do anything different this week. We try to analyse the rival, prepare the sessions and try to be ready to compete in the next game. In this case it is to play against City. It's tough as they are the champion of the Premier League. We know it but we know we will have our chances and we are ready to play."