Come on, admit it. You, like us, had heard very little about Giedrius Arlauskis and Sebastien Prödl, Watford’s first two summer signings. Both were internationals with Champions League experience but their arrival, to boost the options at one end of the pitch, hardly got the pulse racing.
Then, it was announced, Etienne Capoue was joining. Now we’re talking, cried the fans. This was a game changer, a signing that laid down a marker of the club’s intent. The Capoue deal was the one the board were keen to get over the line as quickly as possible as they knew it would make the sales pitch to the rest of the targets much easier.
They had identified Capoue as soon as promotion became a realistic target, so they knew how good he was. The rest of us? We were sceptical of club record signings after the farce of Nathan Ellington and wondering what the catch was: a France international in the prime of his career wants to leave Tottenham Hotspur for newly-promoted Watford? Pull the other one. He must either have been offered an eye-watering deal, was not quite as good as Spurs thought he was when they paid Toulouse £9m for him or he was trouble and Mauricio Pochettino just wanted shot of him.
It turns it out it was none of the above and there was no catch. Things had just not worked out for Capoue at Spurs – sometimes transfers don’t – and he was part of a clear out of the players signed with the proceeds of Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid, as Spurs sought to go down the English route and trim the wage bill ahead of the build of their new stadium. Tottenham’s loss has been Watford’s gain and Capoue is loving being a big fish in a relatively small pond, so much so that he recommended coming to Watford to Benjamin Stambouli, Younes Kaboul, Emmanuel Adebayor and Andros Townsend.
“I admire Capoue a lot,” said Quique Sanchez Flores. “He is involved in the project of Watford. He’s very positive and is achieving the top, top level again. I am happy with the level of Capoue.”
The level he has achieved, at times, has rarely been seen, if ever, by any Watford midfielder of any era. By the time his four-year contract is up, he should really go down as Watford’s greatest ever midfielder. Capoue is so laid back he’s almost horizontal so imagine how good he could be against Tottenham when playing with a point to prove.
“I will give everything,” he said after the game at Chelsea. “I am not thinking about Tottenham. It will mess up my game if I did. I don’t want that. I play for Watford and I am only focused on this club. I will give everything for Watford and I am trying to show my qualities under Quique.”
Sanchez Flores likens him, ability wise, to smooth-passing midfielders like Ruben Baraja and Tiago. He has harnessed his abundant talent and added a workrate and responsibility to his game. Capoue can be a show pony and a workhorse. He has, after all, made more fouls than anyone in the league.
“There is a very good atmosphere at Watford, from the people inside the club to the players and the fans,” Capoue said. “They have all helped put me in a good place and that lets me show everyone what I can do. It is very good here. I am enjoying playing with my teammates.”
He did not enjoy life at Spurs, particularly in the second season. He did not start a league game after a 2-1 defeat to Stoke City last November and did not play at all following the FA Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City in January. Spurs must have some damn good midfielders if Capoue can be allowed to sit in the stands.
“Tottenham was a new experience for me because for the first time in my career I didn’t play,” Capoue said. “That was the decision of the coach. I accepted it, but I just wanted to play. I had two hard years at Tottenham but at Watford I am enjoying my football. Yeah [I am looking forward to seeing some of the Tottenham players], they are my old teammates. I will speak a little bit before and after the game, but during, no.”