Miguel Britos is used to things taking a while.
Already held up by Napoli owner Auerlio De Laurentiis playing hardball with the Pozzos over the complex transfer that saw he and Duvan Zapata involved in a swap deal that took Allan from Udinese to Napoli, his visa to work in England was held up by red tape; his cherished Audi R8 only recently arrived after being imported from Naples and his beloved golden retriever was stuck in quarantine for much longer that was comfortable.
Added to that the phone is yet to ring from the national team coach. “The coach doesn’t like me,” said Britos. “I played in Italy for seven years and he never calls me, never text me. Other players have a chance but not me. I don’t know why.”
He also had to wait three games before he was even available for selection for Watford because of a suspension carried over from Italy. Another three-game suspension, for the red card at Preston, meant ten Premier League games had elapsed and Britos, who turned 30 in the summer, had still not played a single minute of league football.
With the form of Sebastian Prödl and Craig Cathcart, who had helped keep three clean sheets in conceding only ten goals in as many games, it looked like he might be waiting for a little while longer. But then Quique Sanchez Flores dropped the bombshell of all bombshells by bringing in Britos for the game at Stoke City. It was the bravest of calls but, as we have pointed out in these pages before, Sanchez Flores has cojones.
It could have backfired spectacularly. One mistimed tackle from an understandably rusty Britos on fleet-footed runners like Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Mame Briam Diouf would have had Martin Atkinson instantly reaching for his pocket and the away end questioning the sanity of the Uruguayan and the head coach for picking him. Yet Britos was as cool as a cucumber in the build-up to the game, completely unfazed about his career at Watford could be defined what he did that afternoon at the Britannia Stadium. He had been waiting for this moment.
“I was very calm and relaxed as you cannot get more pressure than playing for Napoli,” he said. “I was working very hard at the training ground. I was just waiting for my chance.”
And, boy, has he taken it. He’s now gone from being Mr Liability to Mr Reliable, going about his defensive business with minimal fuss and, with the exception of the Manchester United game, providing a quality source of possession from the back. Most impressively, there has been no trace of the red mist. He’s yet to be spoken to by the referee let alone pick up a Premier League yellow card.
“On the pitch I transform but I promise the coach I will stay calm,” he said. “I am not a very aggressive player. I have only two red cards, one in Naples and one in Preston.”
What he did not mention was that he had collected 36 yellow cards in five Serie A seasons.
“Players there fall with minimal contact,” he said. “It’s too easy to get a yellow card. Referees here are more lenient. I like the Premier League because you can have more contact. Here it is more physical, players are stronger and taller. Maybe I need to work more in the gym.”
Up close, Britos is not as imposing or as intimidating as you might think. His stubble and goatee beard give the impression of a hard man but he’s extremely polite and humble, so much so that, to a bystander at Sopwell House last Thursday, he did not stick out as a Premier League footballer. The anonymity is just the way this family man likes it after four years in the gold fish bowl at Napoli.
“I needed a change,” he said. “In Napoli it is a lot of pressure. The life is not easy for the players. You cannot go out with your family, you can never relax. The supporters they are crazy for the players, for pictures and to speak. It is football, football in Naples. Four years at Napoli is 20 years here. I am very happy to come here. I need this life. It was not very hard to join. The weather is different, it rains here a lot but I can get used to it.”
The acclimatisation process has been made easier by the fact his wife speaks English and that Gaston Ramirez, his countryman at Southampton, is on the other end of the phone. Britos is particularly close to fellow Italian speakers Valon Behrami, Alessandro Diamanti and Victor Ibarbo, although he is having English lessons twice a week.
“I have very good impressions and I am very happy,” said Britos of his start to life in Hertfordshire. “The Napoli fans are very loud and this is well known, so I was very surprised when I came to Watford because they [the fans] are always singing, always supporting us home and away, especially away. At Bournemouth and Stoke it was very good.”
After a rocky start, the fans are just as pleased with him.