HOD­DLE SAVED MY CA­REER, SAYS ANYA

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Jamie Holt

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.

Lost

“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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

HOR­NET STING: Ikechi Anya scores for Wat­ford, and, inset, cel­e­brates with Steven Nai­smith af­ter his goal for Scot­land in Septem­ber

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