The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

SLUMPED on the Wem­b­ley turf, Al­men Abdi sur­veyed the wreck­age of Wat­ford’s tilt at the Pre­mier League and fought back tears.

Downed by an ex­tra-time penalty from 40year-old Kevin Phillips, the Hor­nets had to watch as Crys­tal Palace lifted the play-off tro­phy and con­demned them to another sec­ond-tier slog.

But it wasn’t the de­feat that hurt. It was the fact that Wat­ford hadn’t turned up for their big­gest game of the sea­son.

“We played so bad,” says the Swiss mid­fielder with a wist­ful shake of his head.“To get through the semi-fi­nal like we did and then do that...it was one of the low­est mo­ments in my ca­reer for sure.”

Days ear­lier, they had thrilled the na­tion when, in the fi­nal sec­onds of the their semi­fi­nal sec­ond leg against Le­ices­ter, Manuel Al­mu­nia saved a penalty and then launched a break which saw Troy Deeney score to send Wat­ford to Wem­b­ley.

“I will never for­get that mo­ment,” Abdi adds.“To win that way was amaz­ing. But it will al­ways be sad also be­cause it didn’t count for any­thing.

“Palace were bet­ter in the fi­nal, I must say that. They de­served to win. But what hurts is that they weren’t great.We only needed to play a lit­tle bit bet­ter to win.

“We all had a very bad four weeks in June. Ev­ery­one was very down. But now ev­ery­one is ready to go again and make it right.”


No­body is more ready than Abdi. One of ten loan play­ers signed from par­ent club Udi­nese last sum­mer, the Swiss in­ter­na­tional im­me­di­ately distin­guished him­self as one of the best.

In­tel­li­gent on the ball and a classy tech­ni­cian, Wat­ford couldn’t func­tion with­out the 26-yearold, who beat 23-goal striker Matej Vy­dra to the player of the year award.

“I ap­pre­ci­ated that a lot,” says Abdi, who hit 12 goals in 38 games.“To be voted the best by sup­port­ers is the best hon­our you can have.

“At first, it was hard. It was dif­fer­ent from Italy and I needed some matches. It was very quick, very phys­i­cal. But in the end I re­alised that this is the type of foot­ball I like. Now I will try to help our other Ital­ian play­ers so they can get used to it as well.”

Wat­ford’s pol­icy of loan­ing for­eign play­ers en masse caused much con­tro­versy last sea­son, with Palace boss Ian Hol­loway brand­ing the loop­hole that saw for­eign loans treated as full trans­fers “lu­di­crous”.

As a re­sult, the Foot­ball League have lim­ited match-day squads to five loa­nees, with four from any one club – re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity.

That left Abdi with a choice – stay and fight for a place at Cham­pi­ons League hope­fuls Udi­nese or join the Hor­nets on a per­ma­nent deal.

“It was an easy de­ci­sion for me,” he says. “I’m feel­ing very well here. We have a great team and great lads. I love liv­ing in Lon­don. Com­pared to Lon­don, Udine is like a small town. I think Hamp­stead is big­ger than Udine so there is def­i­nitely more to see and do!

“Of course, I had to think about it. Udi­nese are a big club in Serie A and have just qual­i­fied for the Europa League. And I know the Swiss na­tional coach has said he will only pick play­ers who are in the top leagues. It is my am­bi­tion to get back in that team and I think it will be dif­fi­cult at Wat­ford.

“But, for me, it is more im­por­tant that I feel good. I love play­ing foot­ball here, I have a lot of friends. These are the best things in life.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

JOY AND MIS­ERY: Al­men Abdi cel­e­brates a goal last sea­son. In­set: Abdi with Wat­ford man­ager Gian­franco Zola after los­ing in the play-off fi­nal

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