Adlène Guedioura is used to waiting. If patience was a degree, he’d have graduated with first-class honours.
He was in the international wilderness for nearly three years until the Algeria coach recalled him to the squad. On the club front, he sat around twiddling his thumbs during the summer, waiting three months for Watford to win a protracted game of brinkmanship with the Crystal Palace co-owner Steve Parish so he could land his dream return move to Watford. It took a further three weeks for him to make his first appearance as a permanent Watford player, as an 88th minute substitute against Newcastle United, and he’s still waiting for what will be a long-awaited first start under Quique Sanchez Flores.
Yet it was a short wait in the canteen of a supermarket in London Colney that must have felt like a lifetime. That was where he and his brother, Hassan, who doubles up as his agent, waited for the call to say he was clear to drive over the M25 bridge, take the second exit into Bell Lane and enter the UCL training ground to thrash out the details of his return to the club.
There was no chance of Guedioura jumping the gun and doing what Peter Odemwingie did in 2013 when he prematurely arrived at Loftus Road after believing a deal between QPR and West Bromwich Albion had been agreed.
“We were waiting for the last green light and we stayed at Sainsbury’s and had a coffee there,” Guedioura told us exclusively. “When we got the green light, from [sporting director] Luke Dowling and the chairman, we drove to the training ground.”
Guedioura has been involved in seven moves between English clubs, three of which have been loan deals. Was the three-year contract he signed on September 1 the quickest he had ever put pen to paper?
“I would love to say that but they could have put anything [in the contract] and after [when I see it] I will cry,” he joked. “I really wanted to come, so it was agreed quite quickly.”
There was no need for the stringent two-part medical, the first part of which usually takes place in Harley Street, as the medical staff knew him well.
“They knew how I was from last season, so it was less than a normal one,” he said. “They still need to check things for the insurance as you can’t sign a contract like this without minimal checks.”
His blood pressure would have made for interesting reading after a helter-skelter of a day.
“I had training in the morning with the [Palace] Under-21s,” he said. “After training I had a missed call from my brother. I called him and he said it might happen. I went back to my home [in Elephant & Castle], got changed and I was on my way. I was driving quick and [we were lucky the M25] was clear because it was during summer and it was still the holidays.”
The likelihood of Guedioura making the switch was in the balance through the summer months, with the chances swinging one way and then the next. At one point, the player and both clubs believed the deal was dead. In fact, there is a school of thought it may not have happened at all had Watford signed Abdoulaye Doucouré in a club record deal from Rennes. Where did Guedioura think his future was going to lie when he went to bed on August 31?
“I didn’t know,” he said. “One minute it was zero per cent and the next minute it was 100 per cent. I was on my bed thinking, ‘Maybe it will happen because of this’ and then you think, ‘Maybe it won’t happen because of that’. I knew it might happen at the end of the window because football is like this but each day it was one step forward, the next day was five steps back.”
Guedioura made no secret of his wish to turn the loan move permanent once the final ball of the season had been kicked. Watford immediately tabled a bid of £500,000 but that was rejected by Parish who wanted nearer £2.5m. Offers of £3.5m from Bristol City and Queens Park Rangers were accepted but those moves did not float the boat of the Algerian. Watford was where his heart was set. The exact financial agreement Watford came to is not known but we understand that Parish felt the Hornets got one over him.
Guedioura didn’t care what the fee was, he was just glad to be home and back where he feels he played the best football of his career. There has rarely been a more popular signing in recent years among the fans who identified with Guedioura’s indefatiguable style of play and his penchant for moments of brilliance. Where does the midfielder feel the deep connection with the club and its fans originated?
“There isn’t one moment,” he said, “but lots of mini moments that make a great moment. There is the game in Cardiff. I left after this game and I was a bit sad to leave. If you feel sad to leave it’s because you like it. It was the first time I heard the song of my name. The Wigan game was important because we won away. And then there was Derby away and Middlesborough at home.”
Those back-to-back performances over Easter carried the team to four precious Championship points and gave them that all-important momentum in the race for automatic promotion. Guedioura worked so hard, gave so much for the cause, that he could barely speak in the post-match interview in the middle of the pitch.
“I was so tired for two or three days afterwards,” he said. “To be honest, I thank god for that. I missed the  World Cup because I was injured and did not play enough games before the squad was picked. I wondered how I was going to bounce back from that, but the promotion was one of the best rewards I had in my career.”
Sanchez Flores is a growing admirer of Guedioura and took a while to integrate him into the matchday squad because he felt a summer training with Palace’s U21s was not the ideal preparation for a spot in his high-energy side. The head coach likes what he has seen in training and is waiting for the right moment to give him his first start. It may have come against Norwich City had Guedioura not received a kick late on against Aston Villa.
“We are doing well so you don’t change when things are doing well,” he said. “I know it’s a long season so hopefully the manager will give me more time. Sometimes you can have a bit of frustration when you feel you deserve to play. Maybe after the Palace game I was a bit frustrated because I wanted to have minutes against my old team. If I do bad and I don’t play then I put my hand up. When you deserve to play you feel it’s a bit unfair but it never is. When you are patient and work hard you will be rewarded one day.”
With four games in 13 days over Christmas, his chance could come sooner rather than later as Sanchez Flores is keen to freshen up his team. His last Premier League start came nearly two years ago, in Palace’s 1-0 win over Stoke City. He partnered Mile Jedinak in the Eagles midfield that day. It was the Australian who, the season before, had played the role of Diego Simeone to Guedioura’s role of David Beckham when the Algerian was sent off while playing for Nottingham Forest.
“Jedinak gave me an elbow in my head so when I fell down I reacted badly,” said Guedioura. “My reaction was not good.”
He was sent off in his next game, too, against Cardiff City, which is remarkable given just how good-natured, softly-spoken and well-tempered he is when you meet him.
“I made a foul for the first yellow card and the second the referee thought I was diving but, honestly, it was a real foul,” he said.
Beneath the calm, soft exterior clearly lies a determination and a real competitive streak.
“When I’m on the pitch I want to fight to win,” he said. “Even if I have my mum on the pitch I will tackle her. Then afterwards I will say, ‘Forgive me.’ On the pitch you have no family, no friends.”
He did have his younger brother on the pitch with him once: Nabil, a striker, was on trial at Notts County and Adlène was playing for Forest in a friendly.
“It was quite funny as he kicked me and after I told him, ‘Why did you kick me?’ It’s funny to play against family and I prefer him to play with me than against him.”
Watford fans are just happy the middle Guedioura brother is back playing for their club.