Under-23's 3 weeks ago

Whelan: “Sánchez Flores Is Always Encouraging Me”

Callum Whelan has made quite the impact since joining the Hornets from Manchester United in the summer and the midfielder has been rewarded with an invitation to train with the first team indefinitely.

The 21-year-old has been a mainstay in midfield for Hayden Mullins’ table-topping Under-23s side, been called upon to train with the first team on numerous occasions already and travelled with Quique Sánchez Flores’ squad for the Carabao Cup tie against Everton. Now the Head Coach has decided he wants to keep a close eye on Whelan and have him around on a permanent basis. 

“[Sánchez Flores] has been top, always encouraging and speaking to me, but he also tells me what I need to improve at and get better at,” said Whelan. “But I’m just grateful for the opportunities really, because I’ve been up there [training with the first team] quite a bit recently and I’m finding it a little bit easier the more I’m with them because you get to feel more comfortable in yourself.”

Settling in with the international stars and experienced Hornets has been made easier by the group’s welcoming nature – but that’s not to say they’ve been going easy on him.

“They are all top players and they are consistently at that intensity day in, day out,” he said. “They apply themselves so every time you go over there you’ve got to raise your game every session from the Under-23s. At the minute that’s not even enough, you’ve got to keep improving that one per cent every day and learn what you can off the top Premier League players.

“I watch the midfielders and I think Chalobah is unbelievable. He gives me a lot of advice and speaks to me a lot. Also Will Hughes. They are just top technical players and apply themselves as well.

“Ever since I’ve been going over, Will Hughes has a laugh and a joke and makes me feel comfortable, but when the time comes to tell me something I need to do he’s very firm with me as well. All the lads are so sound with us and make us welcome.”

Training and playing with high-profile players will not come as a shock to Whelan. While at Manchester United he was part of an intake that produced Marcus Rashford – and the midfielder even won the club’s respected Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in 2017.

Since then he has spent time on loan at Port Vale and also trained with the Red Devils’ first-team squad before leaving for Vicarage Road in the summer.

“I had a few sessions up there [with the first team at Manchester United] and it was the same really, two similar clubs really, big players, big teams,” said Whelan. “It’s just the intensity and the quality, both areas they are consistently unbelievable and consistently intense as well, so you’ve got to up your game just to cope over there.”

Whelan’s desire and determination are evident from the way he speaks about his career, and what he aims to achieve in the future. After a first trip with the first-team squad to Everton, his sights are now set on more opportunities.

“The experience of going up to Everton was amazing, it’s what we all want,” he said. “I wasn’t on the bench but to be around the lads, see what they do and how they apply themselves for a big competitive match was good experience and I loved it.

“I’m very grateful for the experience and it’s one where you can’t just let it pass you by. You’ve got to remember how good it was and then strive to work hard and get on the next one and travel again.”

Ladies 3 weeks ago

In Profile: Andrea Carid

By Kevin Affleck

There isn't an award at the end-of-season bash for being the best human being or for possessing the most inspirational story. If there was Andrea Carid, the Ladies' pocket rocket of a forward from Spain, would win it hands down. She'd have it sewn up and should already start preparing her acceptance speech. No-one else would even be in the frame.

Her story, told over a breathless 51 minutes and 59 seconds, is one of triumph amid adversity, one of those that restores your faith in humanity and leaves you feeling all tingly and good about the world. It was so rich, full of such depth that it was difficult to know where to start. Usually you come away from an interview with one angle, one that hasn't already been told if you are lucky. Here, this correspondent thought he had bagged the line early on when she revealed she has a brown belt in Taekwondo and had to choose between football and the martial art. Nope. 

Okay, well then it was definitely when she cried her eyes out after leaving behind her school friends at the age of 11 to move one hour with her parents and her twin brothers from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela. "I missed my friends a lot and they missed me," she said. "We wrote letters a lot and I used to listen to the two songs we all used to listen to all the time. I used to cry as I wanted to come back. I didn't want to move. I couldn't cry in front of my parents as I knew they needed to do it."

Job done. That will get the readers reaching for the box of tissues. No. There was more, so much more. She trumped that one in the very next breath when she told the tale of a coach at Amarelle who didn't fancy her but ended up changing his mind to such an extent that he took the forward, who has been called up by Spain for football and Futsal, with him to his next job in Ourense. "I'm a fighter and you will see," she told him when he said she would be nothing more than a bench player. You never write off this girl.

The news senses were heightened further when the 26-year-old said she named her pet Chihuahua after her idol, Abby Wambach, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup winner. That'll do nicely as an intro. 

Scrap that after she tells the one about how she upped and left Spain to follow her partner Duna to England in June last year with all their belongings stuffed into two suitcases. She talked of the guilt she felt at leaving her parents (and her beloved dog) despite the fact her parents had once uprooted her. "My parents were sad," she said. "They think it's their fault. I said, 'I need to go and grow up and find myself.'"

Now this is where the story ventures into the sort of plot line where documentaries or even movies are made. The start to life in this great country of ours would have broken those not as resolute as Carid. Her and her partner had to move Airbnb every three days. There was the cleaning job for the degree-educated girl for which she was not paid a single penny as promised; the 3.30am rise for her 4.45am shift at McDonald's and the three-and-a-half-hours’ sleep she had on a Tuesday and Thursday night because she didn't get home from training with Watford Ladies until midnight. 

Money was tight. "I buy boots one size bigger as they are the only boots I could find for 10 pounds," she said. "It sounds weird, but it's real." 

Isn't it just. Very real and a world away from the gilded life of the male counterparts. Understandably, things eventually got on top of her. "My feet hurt a lot," she said. "I had to put them in ice when I got in from work as it was so, so painful." 

Breaking point was just around the corner. "I cannot do this," Andrea told her partner one day. "I need to go back. I was so, so bad. I didn't sleep well. I was so stressed. I was anxious a lot. I broke my [front] teeth through grinding [in the night]. I missed my dog. I couldn't see my parents and Duna was working the night shifts at Pret a Manger as she was studying during the day as we needed more money. It was so hard. One day, I said, 'I need to change, even if we have less money, even if we just pay the bills and nothing else. I don't care. I can't sleep 20 hours a week. I'm sorry.'"

 

She made the first small step by taking on reduced shifts at McDonald's, then working in a Korean restaurant and then, in her eyes, in her glass-half-full view of the world, her luck changed when she decided to follow her partner down the path of teaching. But not any ordinary teaching role. That just wouldn't be Carid.

"Duna said, 'You speak perfect English so go and do the same like me. Your vocation is to be a teacher.' I said, 'Okay I'll go.' They said at the agency I can be a teaching assistant."

She started off at Oakleigh School before ending up at Sybil Elgar School, who provide specialist education in Acton for children with Autism. "I said to the manager in the interview that, 'I know I not speak English very well and I don't understand you, but please give me the job as I am going to deserve it. I am going to be worth it.'"

It turned out in fact that any slight difficulty in communication, anything lost in translation made her ideal for the role. "They gave me the job and one of the women said later, 'I knew you were right for this school.' I said, 'Why? Because I don't speak?'  She said, 'You don't need to speak with these children.'"

She was dead right.

"I can feel how they feel," said Carid. "They cannot explain what they need or feel. I feel the same as when I came here from Spain, I argued with a coach at Watford. Maybe he think I was rude. I wasn't rude. I just couldn't explain how I feel. One day he put me in the training as he told me to play higher and I didn't understand. He just stopped the training and said, 'You go out to the 23s!' I said 'Why?' I went to train with the 23s as he didn't understand me.

"It's the same with these children. You need to be so passionate that they are feeling things and they cannot explain. So sometimes they scratch you or they slap you because they are feeling frustrated and want to tell you something."

Carid has marks on her hand and face to prove it.

"It's the only way they can express themselves," she said. "If I am thirsty and I scratch you on the arm, you are going to pay attention and give me water. People express things in different ways." 

Carid has no trouble expressing just how content she is, how happy she is with her lot. In turn, she makes you grateful for what you have in your life, too. Time with her provides you with a reality check and a sense of perspective.

"It's amazing," she said. "I wake up every morning happy to go to the school. I don't care if it's Monday or Friday or even the holidays. I am just so happy to go to the school. They give me the chance to teach them and I am in charge of PE lessons. Eight or 10 hours there is nothing. You need to be strong mentally as it's hard. You can't take it personally. I cannot express my gratitude to work for this school and these children. I am so, so happy."

She now has a lovely work-life balance and it's reflected in her football. After a season last time out she would "prefer not to speak about" she is going great guns this time round and has eight goals for Clinton Lancaster's table-topping team. She came off the bench on Sunday against Keynsham United and scored twice and made another in the space of 12 sparkling minutes. She is the darling of the team and the pocket of fans behind the goal at Kings Langley FC were singing her name. 

"I'm going to be honest," she said. "I didn't know Watford before I came from Spain. I never follow men's football but now when someone says, 'What team do you support?' I say: 'I support Watford.' I am a fan of Watford to the point where I wear the Watford bath clothes. My partner always says, 'Why are you always looking at The Hornets Shop?' Because I like the things. I want the Watford carpet (rug) on the floor. I feel so proud when I wear these clothes. You never see me with another shirt that isn't Watford."

The Hornets are lucky to have her and the thriving game is in great hands with role models like that, but she wouldn't see it that way. "I am so surprised at how my life has changed in one year and a half," she said. "I am so grateful to so many people. I just don't know how to say it."

Oh you do, Andrea, in the sort of way that melts hearts.