Quique Sanchez Flores is not one to count his chickens, and how wise he is not to given the aborted attempt to sign Andros Townsend and the protracted nature of the deal to bring Mario Suarez to Vicarage Road. Yet a win over Nottingham Forest this afternoon, no easy feat given the hosts are 13 matches unbeaten, will leave Watford two wins away from a semi-final appearance at Wembley Stadium. And when it gets to the business end of a knockout competition, Sanchez Flores comes alive and converts cup runs into silverware.
He’s been in six finals as a coach and won five of them, including the Europa League, the European Super Cup and Portugal’s domestic knockout competition. He won three cups in the UAE – trophies he’s probably referring to when he says “sometimes the experience is valid, sometimes not” – and the one blemish on his CV was the Copa del Rey final defeat to Sevilla in 2010.
You have to really drag Sanchez Flores’ achievements out of him and get him to talk about them – “It is important to talk about new history,” he says – but the experiences are surely deposited in the memory bank, ready to be withdrawn if a similar situation arises when he’s in charge of Watford. The Spaniard would be covered, for example, if the fourth-round tie with Forest went to a replay and then penalties. His Benfica side, you see, won the Taça da Liga in 2009 on spotkicks against archrivals Sporting Lisbon. David Luiz, Angel Di Maria and Jose Antonio Reyes were in the Benfica team.
“There are two things I remember,” said Sanchez Flores. “That we won on penalties and that they man mark Pablo Aimar from the first minute. He didn’t score, we couldn’t solve and had to go to penalties.”
Sanchez Flores also has the experience of playing a cup match behind closed doors. The simmering rivalry between Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna boiled over to unacceptable levels in 2006 when an idiot in the crowd at the Mestalla, during the second leg of the Copa del Rey, threw a coin that hit assistant referee Vicente Egido Rozas in the face. Referee Megía Dávila suspended the game, Valencia were fined €6,000 Euros and the rest of the tie was played behind closed doors. Valencia lost 2-1 on aggregate.
There will be more than 4,000 Watford fans making a racket at the City ground this afternoon. They could see Nordin Amrabat make his debut. “He needs to play and he is ready to play,” said Sanchez Flores. “But I need him to understand what we want from him. He’s very clever; the top players are very clever and they understand very quick.”
Sanchez Flores admitted he needs to “manage the situation” with Jose Holebas and Nathan Ake. Holebas has still been receiving treatment to the knock he took to his lower right leg against Southampton and may just be saved for Wednesday, against Chelsea, when Ake is ineligible.
This will be the Spaniard’s first trip to the City Ground. The last time he remembers Forest being on his radar was in 1980 when Brian Clough’s team beat Hamburg in the final of the European Cup at the Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid where Sanchez Flores spent two years as a player and three as a youth-team coach.
“I remember this game perfectly,” he said. “At this moment I thought, ‘Wow, who is this amazing team in England?’ I am always talking to Dean Austin about what kind of atmosphere we will play in and what team Nottingham are. I am always learning and trying to learn.”
Dougie Freedman’s Forest side could learn a thing or two about Premier League football come 5pm this afternoon.