Victor Ibarbo on his way out but lifeline for Jose Holebas

Watford will look to cut short Victor Ibarbo’s loan deal after Quique Sanchez Flores today confirmed the Colombian winger is not part of his plans. The head coach also offered Jose Holebas a lifeline by revealing the Greece international has drastically improved his attitude and application in training.

Ibarbo has not been in a matchday squad since the 3-2 win over Aston Villa at the end of November and has not played a first-team game since the 3-0 home defeat to Arsenal. Sanchez Flores remains unconvinced how Ibarbo can play with the discipline and workrate, particularly defensively, he requires of all his players. The head coach sat and watched the Colombian in action for the U21s against Colchester at the training ground but so unconvinced was he that he went in before half time having seen enough.

“We [at the club] need to talk about this case but, at the moment, this player is not in the plans,” said Sanchez Flores. “We are always thinking the best for Ibarbo. He has qualities and possibilities but we think Ibarbo is not ready to play with Watford. This is my decision. We try to find the best option for Ibarbo because we want the player to be happy.”

Photo by Paul Dawson

The deal, sealed with a seven-figure loan fee, to bring Ibarbo to Vicarage Road was very last minute and was a result of them missing on signing primary wing targets Diego Perotti and Joquain. The move, we were told at the time, was so last minute that they did not have time to discuss with Cagliari the option to buy the player. That, on reflection, appears just as well.

Holebas, meanwhile, looked certain to be moved on January. He fell out of favour after the defeat at the Etihad stadium and the word, from several sources at the training ground, is that he had hardly endeared himself to his teammates or the backroom staff with his aloofness. He has, on at least one occasion, complained about the quality of the hotels Watford have stayed in. However, he was brought in from the wilderness against Chelsea for the ineligible Nathan Ake and showed what a top performer he is against the champions. Holebas can consider himself somewhat unfortunate to lose his place against Tottenham Hotspur but the 31-year-old is almost certain to play the next three games following Ake’s suspension.

Picture by Charlie Doris
Picture by Charlie Doris

“Holebas played well against Chelsea,” said the head coach. “It was difficult match for Holebas. He tried and I did not see a difference between Holebas and the other players. Holebas is, in the last two months, at the point I want. The only problem is that in this position Ake is playing an amazing performance. In the last two months I have the player [in Holebas] I want. It’s very good news for us.”

Whether Holebas is content to play second fiddle to Ake remains to be seen.

Picture by Paul Dawson
Picture by Paul Dawson

Alessandro Diamanti is in the same boat. Sanchez Flores has had no such issues with his attitude: he is one of the most popular members of the squad and excels in training, particularly in the small-sided games. Yet he is not in the same mould as Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo and is not suited to the system Watford play. He may look to move to Italy to resurrect his chance of making Italy’s Euro 2016 squad.

“He’s a very clever player,” said Sanchez Flores. “But he is completely different to the strikers we are managing. Only when we played against Everton did we play with one just behind the striker, in Jurado. The rest of the matches we always play with two strikers. It’s very difficult to play in their position. Only one player has played in this position and that’s Jurado. I was talking with Diamanti. He is training well, he is ready but at this moment he is not coming in the team.”

Picture by Ryan Morgan
Picture by Ryan Morgan

Diamanti is one of Valon Behrami’s best friends in football. There have been reports circulating about Behrami returning to play in Italy, perhaps with Udinese. That would appear hugely unlikely as he’s a valued member of the squad and, along with Etienne Capoue, Behrami sets the standard in training.

“We are supporting Behrami for a long time, since the red card against Swansea,” Sanchez Flores said. “He has problems with injuries. We put Behrami on bench with problems sometimes. He is still not exactly 100 per cent. He’s fighting a lot to recuperate his best. He has little problems and the medical staff are fighting a lot to recuperate this player. The play of this player is very important. I don’t have any doubts about Behrami.”

Picture by Paul Dawson

What if a player, with Euro 2016 on the horizon, has doubts about his involvement for the rest of the season?

“I can’t guarantee [a space in the] first XI to any player,” said Sanchez Flores. “Players must train every single week and what is important is that they go to the pitch with the idea to help the team.”