London Evening Standard
Watford have made an encouraging start to their first season back in the top flight for eight years but on Saturday they face the team who have really made their mark this term.
West Ham, third in the table after beating Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, come to Vicarage Road and Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes says: “They are on fire at the moment. We know what we are going to face. West Ham are the team who have impressed me so much this season. I didn’t expect them to do so well.”
The Hammers’ success is part of what has made this season, Gomes’s seventh in this country, the most unpredictable he has known. “I believe the clubs are getting more prepared, more organised. The big clubs are getting surprised by this. Chelsea are one of them.” Then, with a smile he adds: “Not bad this season for us so far — we’re ahead of Chelsea. We can surprise people.”
Watford are 13th — two points in front of Jose Mourinho’s struggling champions — and Gomes is quick to give much of the credit to manager, Quique Sanchez Flores.
“He is not the Special One but he is different. We have a game plan for West Ham as we have every single game. It is specific. It is not ‘oh, they play like this, long ball’. The week before we play a team, we train according to how the opposition will play. He is able to show us what we must do.”
We are sitting in the sunshine on the terrace outside the dining room of the training ground. Inside Gomes’s two young sons are playing and the 34-year-old Brazilian could not look more relaxed. For him, this is a world removed from Tottenham where he arrived from PSV in 2008 before moving to Watford last season.
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“I am feeling more settled because the club welcome me, more than Tottenham. I am feeling better than my time at Tottenham, physically, mentally, everything.”
Gomes impressed in his first season at Spurs — keeping 12 clean sheets in the League — but he was dropped in 2011 after some high-profile errors and never regained his place before leaving the club three years later.
“Tottenham did not release me” he insists. “They offered me a two-year contract. I have never before said they offered me a contract. You can go and speak to Franco Baldini [then director of football]. He said, ‘please don’t go. I need you around here’. They were going to release Brad Friedel. I said, ‘no I prefer to play in the first team.’ I was always second to Hugo Lloris. Maybe I upset them because I said no. So, of course, they put it about that they were going to release me.”
The result was Friedel stayed another year and Gomes had to move down to the Championship with Watford. But he says: “From the first time I came here to speak to the owner [Gino Pozzo], I could see they think of the long term. He told me when I signed he needed me with Troy Deeney to lead the team, to put this club in the Premier League.”
In May, when Gomes signed a three-year contract, Pozzo told him the next step was for him to help stabilise the club in the Premier League. Gomes says: “I am very confident we will stay up. I believe we have a special thing in this club.”
For Gomes this is the way Watford help new signings, particularly foreign players, adapt. “Troy and I are the most experienced players. We welcome them and tell them Watford are a family club and that we need to be together to put this club on another level.”
One of the newcomers who has experienced this special welcome is Gomes’s former Spurs colleague Etienne Capoue, who became Watford’s record buy this summer at £6.3million.
“He rang me before signing. Of course, I had to say good things about Watford. But I never lied to him. From my time here, the club have gone about things the right way. The club gave him time to adapt. They never made him feel he needed to play well every time. He felt from the first minute he had been at the club for a long time. He had freedom. He felt this is what he was looking for a long time. I thought Capoue would be good for us. He has been immense.”
The midfielder was one of the seven players Spurs bought as part of a £110m outlay in 2013 following the £86m sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. Along with Capoue, three of the seven — Roberto Soldado, Vlad Chiriches and Paulinho — have also gone. Gomes still keeps in touch with his fellow Brazilian Paulinho and says: “He was a good player but didn’t have much of a chance. Tottenham are a huge club. My advice is don’t go there if you’re not sure you are going to do well. If you are not going to, you can end up in a situation where there is no time [to correct things].
“When you have a player who is used to a different game, you need to look after him on and off the pitch. In my time at Tottenham there was just training and that’s it.
“We have plenty of foreign players at Watford but the club make sure they take care of them. To bring in foreign players, you need to take care of them. Then, probably, they will do the best for you as well. I always tell the foreign players, ‘if you need anything call me’.”