Joel Ekstrand has thrown his full support behind Watford head coach Gianfranco Zola, insisting the Italian is the best manager he has ever worked with and that “there is no other man to lead this team”.
Zola’s position came under scrutiny after the Hornets suffered their fourth consecutive home defeat last weekend against Yeovil Town and despite a morale-boosting draw at third-placed Burnley on Tuesday night, doubts still fester among some Watford supporters.
After the match at Turf Moor, Ekstrand was asked whether Zola was the right man to lead the club out of its recent slump and his response was unwavering.
“I don’t think he is the right man, I know he is the right man,” said the centre-half, who is in his second season under Zola.
“There is no other man to lead this team, I have full confidence in him, he's the best manager I’ve ever had in my career so far.
“All the players feel the same way as well, 100 per cent. Everyone believes he’s the guy that should lead us and in the next game we should play for him.”
The goalless draw against Burnley means the Hornets are seven games without a win in the league and seven points off the final play-off spot.
The club have brought in a total of 13 new players this season – not including last season’s loan signings which were made permanent.
Only five of those 13 arrived with previous experience of playing in the Championship and questions have been asked about the team’s stomach for the fight.
Ekstrand insists however he has no doubts about the players’ commitment to the club or their determination to succeed this season.
“I have never had any doubts about this team’s heart or determination, none at all,” he said.
“I know all the English players who are here and I know all the players who have come in from Italy and abroad – and we are all playing with our hearts.
“As someone who has come from abroad myself, I am playing with all my heart for Watford, I’m not taking anything for granted.
“Just because we had a good season last year doesn’t mean we don’t want to do that again. But all teams can struggle and we have been struggling.”
He continued: “Obviously when you take a lot of players from different countries it can take a bit of time to get used to the football.
“English football is very special in many ways but the players have the club very much at heart and they have the desire to play well for Watford – I have no doubt at all about that.”
The majority of Watford’s new signings are players in the early stages of their career looking to prove themselves at senior level.
The Hornets’ top goal scorer last season, Matej Vydra, earned himself a move to the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion in the summer and Nathaniel Chalobah also enjoyed a stellar campaign at Vicarage Road, boosting his already glowing reputation at Chelsea.
Ekstrand however insists the players have to understand the team always comes first.
“We have to work together and play for each other and I think you can see tonight’s performance [against Burnley] was a good step in the right direction,” the 24-year-old said.
“It’s not just about doing the defensive side of the game, I think it’s about playing it simple, knowing that the team and the club comes before anything else.
“We have to play for our own manager and play for the club because before you want to show what you can do as an individual, you have to play for the team.
“If you play for the team and you play well as a team, all the individuals will play better as well.”
Tomorrow (Saturday), Watford travel to Leeds United who have won their last five league matches at home, scoring 12 goals in the process.
The Hornets start the match seven points behind their opponents but Ekstrand believes his teammates can build on the performance at Burnley and quickly climb the table.
“We were really solid all over against Burnley and with a little bit of luck we could have won that game as well,” he said.
“I think we have a good squad, we just have some small things we have to put right.
“Tuesday night was a good step in the right direction. A couple of games ago we were right in the play-off places and if you get a couple of wins, you never know and then anything can happen.”