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Granada loanee Ikechi Anya hopes his time at Watford will help him develop as a player
Ikechi Anya has already tasted the joy and despair of professional football and now he is hoping to prove his worth in the Championship.
Anya broke into the Wycombe Wanderers side at the age of 16 in 2004 and was highly thought of at the club but then a knee injury stunted his development and he was released by the Chairboys.
The Glasgow-born attacker had the option to join Northampton Town that summer but he was still struggling with the injury and decided to join Oxford City, near where he was living at the time.
A spell at Halesowen Town followed and Anya admitted he feared his hopes of playing professional football may be over.
But a recommendation from former Wycombe Wanderers boss John Gorman secured him a trial with the Glenn Hoddle Academy and as they say, the rest is history.
He moved over to Spain as part of a development programme and played for Sevilla and Celta Vigo's reserve sides before earning a move to Granada last summer.
Anya, who spent last season on loan at Cadiz, says his career was saved by the Glenn Hoddle Academy.
He said: “If it wasn’t for the Glenn Hoddle Academy, I don’t think I would have ever been in the positions I have been in.
“After being released by Wycombe to now being on loan at Watford it shows how much I progressed there. Not only technically but mentally as well. It really helped me.”
Hundreds of footballers are released by clubs each year and many disappear into non-league football for good. And Anya feared he may be one of them.
He said: “I got a bad knee injury and in the second part of the season, when I was let go, I wasn’t playing and wasn’t training so I think the manager went for other options.
“I’m quite a realistic person and once you drop down to non-league level, it is hard to come back up from there.
“Many players have probably been in the same situation and haven’t had the luck I’ve had to make it back.
“So you do think of the options but I worked hard and had that little bit of luck to come back.”
Anya has come a long way since plying his trade at non-league level.
He grew up in the Oxford area and his family live in the UK so admits he jumped at the chance to return to England.
Anya said: "I am really excited about the move. When my agent told me that this could be a possibility, I was more than happy to come here.
“I was living in England before playing in Spain so I know how big a club Watford are. I’ve got friends who are Watford fans as well so I’m definitely excited to be here.”
Anya was not desperate to leave Spain though and stated that he adapted to the lifestyle well, after a difficult first year.
He said: “Being back home has it pluses and minuses.
"When I was playing in Spain, I worked hard to embrace myself in the culture and I managed to learn the language.
“Coming back to England certainly has its benefits, such as being closer to my family, but part of me will miss Spain after being out there for a few years because you get attached to things after that time.”
So having played in the Football League and, what are the main differences between playing in Spain and the UK?
“It’s a bit hard to say, and with Gianfranco Zola as our manager, he has foreign influence on the style of play which for me, personally, is good.
“Obviously for three years I’ve adjusted to that system and now I’m used to it.
“I think it is a bit more technical in Spain. Every time we tried to play from defence and only sometimes decided to go long .
“But every team play to their strengths so neither one is better I would say.”
Anya admits that Hornets boss Zola was a key factor in joining the club and hopes he can flourish under the Italian's guidance.
"“When the loan deal was proposed to me, the main attraction was Zola being the manager.
"But the team comes before player, so whether the manager plays me or not, I know I’m going to improve with a manager like Zola and the coaching team we have here.
“So from a personal point of view I’m sure I will improve but the most important thing is that the team does well on the pitch.”