Manuel Almunia believes Watford’s dressing room may be lacking strong ‘characters’ and has stated his teammates must be “willing to die” on the pitch if they are to succeed in England.
Almunia has spent time at the top of his sport and shared an Arsenal dressing room with world-class players such as Sol Campbell, Patrick Viera, Thierry Henry, Robin Van Persie and Dennis Bergkamp – to name a few.
The experienced goalkeeper arrived at Highbury the summer after the Gunners went the whole 2003/04 season unbeaten – a feat which has not been repeated – so he knows what it is like to play in a dressing room with strong personalities and characters.
The departures of John Eustace and Jonathan Hogg saw two vocal players leave Watford in the summer and experienced professionals such as Nyron Nosworthy and Fitz Hall have also been absent on match days for most of the season due to injury and not being under contract.
When the Golden Boys’ captain was asked whether the Hornets have lacked big personalities and players with a vocal presence this season, he replied: “Yes probably. Any characters on the pitch are appreciated. You can never have too much character on the pitch.
“I always say to the players that they should be the boss on the pitch because it makes you play better and it makes the people around you play better. When you are on form, everyone else ends up being the same.
“People have to say ‘I am here and you are not passing through’. We need people who talk a lot on the pitch and people who are aggressive because football is not only about people with quality playing on the grass, it is much more.”
Watford have an abundance of technically-gifted players from the continent but Almunia agreed that English football requires more aggression and character than other leagues in Europe.
He explained: “Football in England is played with the heart and not only with the feet. You need a hot heart on the pitch and the cold hearted do not survive in England. That is what I have felt in the ten years I have been here.
“You have to be willing to die [on the pitch] and give everything you have. You have to go home exhausted.”
Watford’s dressing room is now multi-national and includes several players who are not fluent in English.
But Almunia has stressed the importance of all the players learning the language and being together as a squad.
He said: “Football is not only about what happens on the pitch; it is off the pitch as well. We are part of a group and everybody needs to take part in everything.
“The people who do not speak the language, try to speak the language, practice every day, and it is the little things which help make a good group. But every single player has to put a bit of themselves in for things to work.”
Almunia believes Watford are under more pressure this season compared to last and stressed it comes from the players themselves rather than externally.
He described last season as “unfinished” and stated the psychological demands of wanting to be around the promotion places again is “a nice pressure that everybody wants”.
When he was asked if the other players were struggling to deal with the pressure this season, after playing with so much freedom during the 2012/13 campaign, Almunia replied: “I am not in the head of every player. It would be nice for the players to express how they feel because it would help us to cope with the pressure together.
“But everyone is different and I don’t know how they feel if they do not speak.”
Almunia believes Watford have a man in charge, in Beppe Sannino, who knows how to handle a diverse dressing room.
“What I like about him is the way he motivates the players,” Almunia said. “He has a lot of character and he knows perfectly how to manage the dressing room. I like the way he motivates the players.
“All players are different. Some have more character and some are more laid back; he knows who needs a push from the back and he does this very well.”
Sannino is a tactician who likes to spend time working on drills at the training ground and it appears to be paying off. Watford have only conceded three goals in Sannino’s first six games in charge, compared to ten in the six matches prior to his arrival in England.
Almunia said: “The new manager likes to work on the shape of the team and defending set pieces. We work a lot on this and in the end you can see more of a difference.
“This manager is very disciplined. We work a lot on the training ground and everybody wants to impress the new manager to show they should be on the pitch every week.”
He added: “In the last few games everybody has been more focused than before. I think we are under more pressure to do well because of where we are in the table and because of what happened with the former manager (Gianfranco Zola).
“Everybody is feeling more pressure than last season and now we are defending better and we have positive things to take from the last few games.”