Watford defender Marco Cassetti says playing football in England has been a revelation for him and insists he wishes he made the move to this country 15 years ago.
The 36-year-old Italian joined the Hornets in August 2012 after six seasons at AS Roma which included three runners-up medals in Serie A, two Coppa Italia victories and four seasons in the Champions League.
After a tentative start to life at Vicarage Road, Cassetti’s composure on the ball, his anticipation and his ability to pick a pass saw him become a regular fixture in Watford’s back five under Gianfranco Zola and now Beppe Sannino.
Serving under two Italians and joining a club where these days they have Rome’s finest olive oil on the canteen tables instead of juice may have made it easier for the likeable veteran to settle in.
But when asked to sum up his 18 months at Vicarage Road it is not the similarities to life at home that Cassetti loves. It’s the differences.
“I have enjoyed what I had done before in my career but in England I have discovered another type of football, another religion of football, another way of playing the game and a completely different way of life for a player,” he said.
“I have been very surprised at how much I have enjoyed it. If I had known before how much I would like it here I would have come when I was much younger. I would have come 15 years ago.”
Despite his years, particularly in comparison to an increasingly youthful Watford squad, Cassetti dismisses the idea he has grown into a leader in the dressing room.
“I am not a leader, I am the joker,” he said, explaining his role of relaxing his teammates before kick-off and insisting football is to be enjoyed and played with a smile.
It is here that Cassetti feels he and English football have been a perfect match.
“When I arrived I liked this aspect of football in England a lot,” he said.
“It is more relaxed and for me that’s better because you go into the games feeling relaxed without pressure and you are a better player.
“It was strange, I came into the dressing room before the game and there was music playing.
“In Italy the manager would go crazy – it is absolutely not possible to have music in the changing rooms before a game, no way. It is not so intense here and I love it.”
Cassetti also talks passionately about the Watford fans. He described how in Italy losing at home in front of the ‘Ultras’ was unthinkable and recalls the huge pressure players would be under for days afterwards.
“The fans here are more intelligent,” Cassetti explained. “You can win, you can lose or you can draw and the majority of the time the supporters at the end of the match clap you because they know you put 100 per cent in to win the game.”
He continued: “It’s a family atmosphere. When you arrive at the stadium there are a lot of kids. Before the game there is a mascot who comes into the changing room and he asks you to sign some things for the children.
“This is unbelievable – it never happens in Italy. It’s absolutely out of the question, unthinkable.”
While Cassetti thrives on the relaxed atmosphere off the pitch, he admits the football at Watford has become more concentrated since Sannino took the helm in December.
The Hornets have swapped Zola’s free-flowing but defensively fragile template for a tighter, more mechanical outlook that has yielded five consecutive home clean sheets but a product less pleasing on the eye.
When results are good, style can easily be forgotten but Cassetti agrees defeats are doubly hard to accept if they come with men behind the ball and precious few shots on target.
“It’s the same for the players as it is for the fans,” he said. “When the results come everything is OK.
“But when the results don’t come and you play more defensively it is difficult to accept because you work a lot on the defence, they score and you lose the game without creating chances.
“When the team is just thinking to score a goal, score a goal, score a goal – it is better for the fans to watch the team than one that defends in the box and then wins the game on a counter-attack.
“But in the match against Blackpool we played very well defensively and offensively too. We were together, we played more attacking but one game is not enough, we have to do it consistently.”
Sannino has deployed Cassetti in a new role in recent matches with the Italian taking up the central position of the defensive trio rather than on the right or even wider at right wing-back.
Starting his career as a right midfielder, Cassetti jokes his age is restricting his options but the veteran has been one of Watford’s most consistent performers in recent matches.
“The manager asked me to play there against Leicester for the first time and it’s fine, it’s a little bit different but I play well there,” he said.
“He (Sannino) told me he wanted to try me in this position and wanted to see how it would go.
“It’s the first time I've played in this role – maybe I am too old to play anywhere else now – but actually maybe my experience was something he felt would be useful in that position.”
Cassetti turns 37 in May and while he loves the football in England, he leaves a wife, a 14-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter at home in Italy.
“I want to finish this season and then I will decide what to do because this is my second year I have been far away from my family,” he said.
“I have also to find out if the club want me for another year. I am certainly happy with the football but there is a time when you have to think about what you want to do after your career.”