Quique Sanchez Flores played down the significance of Troy Deeney being on the bench against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday and declined to go into detail about how the captain reacted to being left out of the starting XI.
The decision to name the skipper and second top-scorer among the replacements for the game at White Hart Lane was a seismic shock and the Hornets struggled without Deeney as their figurehead and inspiration. Sanchez Flores said after the game that Deeney, as well as Valon Behrami and Odion Ighalo, had not trained before the game. The day after the game against Chelsea was a recovery day and the team only trained on the Friday before the visit to Spurs. Sanchez Flores, remember, pitched Ighalo straight in against Manchester United after the Nigerian stepped off a flight from Africa the day before the game having been away for a fortnight.
“Sometimes journalists don’t know what happened before the match,” said the head coach. “Behrami, Ighalo and Deeney didn’t train. They had problems with the muscles and there were doubts about them being 100 per cent. It is impossible to choose three players who are 100 per cent. We have to play four months more in the season. If they have a risk, I need to conserve. I conserve Deeney and Behrami. I knew Tottenham were going to push in first 45 minutes and I tried to avoid wasting the energy of Behrami and Deeney.”
Deeney typically tweets ‘work time’ on the morning of a game but there was no tubthumping social message on Saturday morning. How did Deeney take the news he was not starting a game for the first time since the 4-3 win at Bolton Wanderers?
“All the players want to play,” said the head coach. “When some player is not playing, it depends on the character. I understand perfectly the character of the players. They all train with idea to play. Sometimes this is not possible. This is football. The players need to understand we are a group. We don’t have individual target, we have collective target. Deeney is the first player in the group who understands this message.”
Sanchez Flores went on to discuss, unprompted, about him “not punishing any player”. Eyebrows were raised when the captain publicly threw Juan Carlos Paredes under the bus for his part in the incident with Diego Costa against Chelsea. Paredes was left out of the squad altogether on Saturday.
“It is important not to [create a] drama when one player is on the bench,” said the head coach. “We have 25 players and it is unfair when some is playing and others are not. Every weekend there are seven on the bench and five not on the bench. I respect a lot the players. I know the fans love Deeney, we love Deeney, too. He knows how important he is. It is impossible to create any doubts about my feeling for Deeney.”