Mike looks back on Almen Abdi’s time at Watford, with a tear in his eye!
Football. It will always break your heart.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new and horrifying will happen to make you question your weekly pilgrimage, emotional investment and spiralling financial commitment. Conceding a last minute goal, the stonewall penalty that never was, relegation on the final day. Feeling particularly at ease? You’ll need to be seeing a ghost goal awarded against your team. Be under no illusion, If you are feeling happy and content, football will see to it sooner or later.
Of course, the lifetime of pain and anxiety is punctuated by moments of joy and it has to be said that for the past few years, Watford supporters have had very little to complain about. Since the Pozzo family took the reins back in 2012 the club has seen a rapid upturn in fortunes. Vicarage Road has undergone an extensive refurbishment and the team is once again doing battle in the Premier League. All was rosy in the WD18 garden.
And then Almen Abdi left.
The name won’t mean much to most, but this was a man dear to the hearts of the Hornets faithful, and his sale to Sheffield Wednesday has been a painful reminder of the hurt that football can inflict.
The Pozzo takeover was notable for the sudden and sizeable influx of new players that followed them through the door. Watford’s squad swelled to an extraordinary size, with new and exotic sounding players arriving on an almost daily basis. Among them was a Swiss midfielder named Almen Abdi.
Whilst the arrivals were undoubtedly exciting, none of them were household names and Watford supporters, still bruised by the chronic mismanagement of the previous owner, had become accustomed to pessimism and low expectations. On a Tuesday night in October, it was within the cramped confines of the away end at The Valley that everything changed.
The Hornets found themselves down to ten men before the end of the first half and there will have been few that thought the visitors had any chance of taking anything from a match which at that stage stood at 1-1. What followed was an extraordinary display of effort and commitment that kept the scores level until the 70th minute, when Watford were awarded a free kick.
As the ball left the right boot of Abdi and arced into the Charlton net, the travelling supporters erupted. These were celebrations on a different level, though. Yes, Watford were winning away with ten men, but the performance had shown that there was a real chance that this new look squad could go on to achieve things, whilst in Almen Abdi, the owners had delivered an undisputed gem. The celebrations had a fervour about them, an unbridled display of unexpected delight, excitement and newfound expectation.
Abdi would go on to deliver stellar performance after stellar performance, unlocking defences and picking passes as if it were as simple as checking your watch. He was sublime, effortless, mercurial. A pivotal part of the team that would eventually achieve promotion to the Premier League, constantly supplementing his majestic performances with goals that were almost exclusively long range beauties. He was a terrace hero, with many supporters hailing him as the best they’d seen in Watford shirt.
Under Quique Sanchez Flores, Abdi continued to be a regular face in a team that was defying expectations in the top flight, but appearances in his natural position of centre midfield were few and far between. Ever the professional, Abdi slotted in wherever he was asked to, including an unfathomable stint at right back, but his flair, poise and creativity was being stifled. It was a shame. There was universal agreement that he was mis-used and under-utilised by Sanchez Flores, but with new Head Coach came new hope that “the professor” would be slotted back into his natural position and allowed to shine once more.
It wasn’t to be. After Walter Mazzarri was unable to give Abdi assurances that he’d be played in his preferred role, a parting of the ways became inevitable and it was soon announced that he had joined former teammates Fernando Forestieri and Daniel Pupil at Sheffield Wednesday.
Social media reverberated with best wishes and tributes, and as ridiculous as it may sound, there was an unmistakable sense of collective loss amongst Watford fans. Abdi had been the epitome of the excitement, hope and quality that the Pozzo family brought with them, as well as being the sort of hard working and unassuming professional that every fan wants to see at their club.
For most, he was perfect. And now, he was gone.
Football. It will always break your heart.