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Former Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia admits he's feeling loved at Watford
Manuel Almunia has endured a difficult couple of years and saw his reputation plummet as the goalkeeper’s Arsenal career diminished.
But the veteran now feels loved again as he settles into life on the other side of the London Colney fence.
Almunia spent eight years at Arsenal and during his stay picked up an FA Cup winners’ medal, played in a Champions League final and was even tipped for an England call-up by some – under residency rules.
But the 35-year-old suffered a dramatic drop in form in 2010 and was replaced by, first, the retired Jens Lehmann and then Poland international Wojciech Szczesny.
Last season Almunia made just four appearances on loan at West Ham United, when he filled in for the injured Rob Green, but had very little involvement with his parent club.
He walked out of Arsenal’s London Colney base for the last time this summer after becoming, by his own admission, the forgotten man.
But despite offers from other Championship clubs and abroad, Almunia took the short walk next door to Watford’s training ground and into the number 1 jersey.
Almunia said: “It is still a bit early but so far those inside the club, the players, the staff and everybody involved with the club have shown me good respect. I really feel wanted and loved.
"It is something that is very important for me because whilst I am a footballer, I am also a person and I think every footballer likes to feel comfortable in a club, and wanted.”
Almunia lived near St Albans initially following his move to Arsenal but moved to Hampstead three years ago and not having to move home was a big factor.
He said: “I had some offers from the Championship and away from the UK, far away, but I really fancied staying in London because I have my life here, my wife loves London and Watford’s training ground is near Arsenal’s so I didn’t have to move home.
“The manager was also a strong point for me when it came to joining the club. I really think he is a good manager and a good person, he understands the players and I think he can do very well here.
“I think everybody admires him because he was not only a great player but he is a great person,” Almunia added.
“He is a good man, it is easy to talk to him, he is very accessible and I think every player loves him.”
Almunia describes himself as “quite a sensitive person” and claims he doesn’t always deal with bad moments very well, so he found his demise at Arsenal tough to take initially.
Almunia started his career at Osasuna and also had spells at Celta Vigo, Recreativo and Sabadell, among others, before he moved to England.
He joined Arsenal in 2004 and went on to make 175 appearances for the club.
However, the Spaniard made just two league appearances in his last two years at Arsenal after being dropped from the side in September 2010, although he did make a few outings in cup competitions.
He said: “The last year wasn’t very difficult because I accepted my situation; I went to training every day, I enjoyed the football and staying at a nice club.
“I was trying to teach the young goalkeepers because I knew it was my last year so I did try to enjoy one last year at a big club.
“I believe I left Arsenal as a gentleman and people know that. It was really difficult two years ago though, maybe more difficult because I expected to play more, and better.”
Almunia was welcomed by his new team-mates and despite not playing a competitive match for almost ten months, he has impressed during pre-season and in the Championship.
He said: “No matter what division you are in, it is really good to feel the game again. It is great to have that feeling every weekend; not only in training but when the weekend comes and you feel nerves in your stomach before the game. It is something I did really miss last season.
“I settled quicker than I expected and I am really happy,” he continued.
“I come into training every day really looking forward to it; the people are nice, the players are fantastic and Watford really has everything to achieve success. But it takes time.
“I think we have the quality to fight for anything in this league but we have to show it in every match and we cannot drop anything and we have to go 100 per cent in every game.”