Who said centre-halves are not the sharpest tools in the box? A member of the media would have had to get up pretty early yesterday to catch out Sebastian Prodl.
Starting off the press conference by answering in fluent German, two questions asked in English for the benefit of Sky Deutschland, Prodl asked an inquisitor from Sky Sports if he was a Leicester City fan after being asked for the second time if the Foxes can become the most unlikely winner of the Premier League. Cue much chortling. He then responded to another question about the time he was, somewhat surprisingly, left out at Stoke City in favour of Miguel Britos. “We spoke about this before, didn’t we?” he said, sharp as a button.
He was bristled at the suggestion by another reporter that Watford were tipped, before a ball was kicked, to haemorrhage goals. They have kept nine clean sheets.
“This is a surprise for you?” he said. He wasn’t being a smart alec, like Louis Van Gaal sometimes does or Jose Mourinho used to. Prodl is just extremely bright and articulate enough not to talk in cliches or nod in agreement.
If the assembled half a dozen journalists were expecting Prodl to throw Diego Costa under the bus for shoving him, two handed, over in the penalty area last week, think again.
“He’s very strong, a fighter and I like players like this,” he said. Damn. Many wanted him to say the Spain international striker was a pain in the backside who he wanted sent off for his petulant behaviour.
“I don’t know why people don’t like him,” Prodl said. “I like his style. He’s a naughty boy but he always says sorry for some of the stuff he’s doing. He’s respectful.”
What? Costa is respectful? C’mon, Seb. Pull the other one.
“I like the culture of football here,” he said. “It’s difficult, raw and honest.”
Prodl is honest, if nothing else. For example, he didn’t want to talk up Watford’s defensive record too much “because when you say you are happy about the defence you concede three goals in the next game.” Fair enough.
Watford have only conceded three goals once this season and that was at home to Arsenal, with the Gunners striking three times in eight extraordinary second-half minutes. Prodl was dropped after that, replaced by Miguel Britos for the game at the Britannia Stadium against Stoke.
“It was a weird situation,” he said. “It’s not what you are expecting or wanting. I fought back perfectly after my injury now and I’m getting back into my perfect shape.”
Did Sanchez Flores sit down and explain his reasoning? “He has better and different things to do than this work,” said Prodl. “At Tottenham we changed five players after Chelsea, so there is no time for it.”
His hopes of winning his place back post Stoke were not helped by the troublesome calf injury he sustained while on international duty with Austria. He limped off just minutes into the November friendly with Switzerland – and it had nothing to do with an overzealous tackle from Valon Behrami. Prodl went from starting the first nine games to not starting another Premier League game until that fateful evening at St Mary’s, three months later.
“It’s a crazy situation,” he said. “I came off in the second minute, came back [to England] had a scan, a break and it took a little bit longer, maybe to understand the injury,” Prodl said. “I was perhaps too motivated to get back. When you have a calf injury you can’t do that much physical work. I had to do a lot of training and it took me a while.”
The hectic nature of the Premier League programmes means Prodl has barely had time to see his old Werder Bremen defensive partner Per Mertesacker, despite the fact that Mertesacker works so close to Prodl that he takes the next left off Bell Lane in London Colney to the one Prodl does every morning. They plan to catch up next week, where Prodl will expand on adjusting from life in Germany to England.
“There are a few differences,” he said. “London is a bit more expensive than middle Europe. I like it as well as there is plenty of time to prepare, without journalists and supporters on the training ground. Sometimes if you play bad there were one thousand supporters in the stands. When you are preparing for a derby against Hamburg , for example, there can be two thousand. There was a little bit more pressure. No-one disturbs you or films your work here. Playing without a winter break, without a holiday is also a new situation. We had some great games over Christmas, however.”
The best present Prodl received last year, eventually after several weeks, was finding a landlord willing to accommodate his beloved Cocker Spaniel. He, his dog and his girlfriend are now fully settled into life in England. Prodl would have felt right at home had he powered a header either side of Thibaut Courtois instead of straight at the towering Belgian in the first half of the game with Chelsea at Vicarage Road.
“I should have scored,” he said, ending the interview as he started it – with searing honestly.