HODDLE SAVED MY CAREER, SAYS ANYA
IT HAS been quite a rise for Ikechi Anya, who has established himself for Watford and Scotland after being rescued from the scrap heap by former England boss Glenn Hoddle.
He even had a stint in NonLeague football with Oxford City and Halesowen before the Glenn Hoddle Academy came to his rescue in 2008.
Winger Anya was cast-off by Wycombe a year earlier and in a desperate bid to catch the eye of professional clubs he turned to the former Spurs and England midfielder for help.
What followed was Hoddle’s greatest success to date. While former Fulham youngster Lino Goncalves was invited on a twoweek trial with Ipswich and Chris Fagan was signed by Lincoln City, Anya has surpassed them all.
Humble beginnings on loan at Northampton were turned into Spanish dreams at La Liga giants Sevilla, where he earned a twoyear contract in 2009. And having made his loan move to Watford permanent last summer, Anya admits he owes it all to Hoddle – who has been linked with the vacant Swansea job – and his unique set-up in Spain.
“People think that Glenn doesn’t take much interest, but he’s there 90 per cent of the time and very much working hard with all the lads to help them find something,” said Anya.
“We’re all after a route back into the game. I came from Non-League and improved sufficiently to end up with Granada, and the link-up with Watford saw me move here.
“I’ve not got a bad word to say about the academy, I’m extremely grateful to Glenn, and John Gorman, who was my boss at Wycombe at the time and told me to head over there because he knows Glenn well.
“I guess I was a bit lost. I went there very much with an open mind, and I had nothing to lose. I was in a fortunate position in many ways because I came from NonLeague whereas a lot of the others were from Premier League clubs.”
Now Anya could even be back in the Premier League next year if the Hornets pick up their form – last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Brighton was just their second in 16 Championship matches.
But the 26-year-old has already had a taste of international football, and after making a goalscoring debut against Macedonia in October he is now a firm part of Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad.
Anya, Glasgow-born to a Nigerian father and Romanian mother, used to walk past Hampden Park on his way to church. “It’s crazy really,” says Anya, who has four caps. “I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like that during the national anthem.
“Gianfranco Zola was still manager at Watford at the time, and I remember after breakfast he told me about a call he had from Gordon Strachan and whether I would want to play for Scotland.
“At first not much was known about my background. I left Scotland at a young age but it played a big role in my upbringing and I’m very honoured to play for Scotland.”
Scotland are not the only ones reaping the benefits of Hoddle’s ability to turn players around.
Vicarage Road has seen some moments of brilliance from the tricky winger ever since he joined on a temporary basis from feeder club Granada in summer 2012.
But skills and technique can only get you so far, he says.
“I think the fans at Watford accept people who want to work hard, and that, along with my pace, is probably my best attribute,” continued Anya, whose strike against Brighton last Saturday was his third of the season.
“I’m very happy here. I think I’ve found my home. We’re moving in the right direction. I’ve not been so happy with our recent form but there are so many games left we can turn it around and make a late push for the play-offs.”
HORNET STING: Ikechi Anya scores for Watford, and, inset, celebrates with Steven Naismith after his goal for Scotland in September