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Costel Pantilimon the one Watford player to win at Arsenal

Nordin Amrabat likened Quique Sanchez Flores to Roberto Mancini, who he worked with at Galatasaray, when we asked him recently how Watford’s head coach compared to others.

“They both have good organisation, play good football and have good tactics,” said Amrabat. “Quique is quite strong on tactics. He and his staff analyse everything, for two or three days. We train a lot on tactics and when you see our games you see the organisation is always good.”

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Costel Pantilimon had a look of ‘Really?’ when we asked him having played under both coaches, if the comparison was a valid one. He had to pause, think hard about his answer before diplomatically replying:

“I try to think every manager is different in his point of view,” said the goalkeeper who is set to start tomorrow’s FA Cup quarter-final at Arsenal. “Every manager is different and has different ways to manage. Everyone is special in his way.”

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You can hardly blame Pantilimon if he threw Mancini under the bus; Mancini, after all, was the man who got City’s goalkeeping coach to tell him, at the 11th hour, he would be replaced by Joe Hart for the FA Cup final against Wigan Athletic having played in every round to the final without conceding a goal.

“I had a good relationship with Mancini,” said Pantilimon. “I do not blame him. I’m very happy with what I did there. I say thank you to him. It was a great moment for me when he brought me into a very big squad.”

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Pantilimon was just as diplomatic about Sam Allardyce, recognising the eve of a big game at the Emirates was not the time to be carpeting former coaches. But you got the impression there was more than met the eye to his hasty exit from Sunderland. He played in successive away games at Arsenal and Chelsea but within a month, he was gone from the Stadium of Light. Whatever it was, Watford landed an international goalkeeper on a free.

“I was feeling it was a moment where it was better to shake hands and say goodbye,” said Pantilimon who joined Sunderland from Manchester City in the summer of 2014. “I didn’t understand the situation, didn’t accept a few things. We discussed the decision he took [in dropping him after the 3-1 defeat at Chelsea]. I wasn’t agreeing with what he said. It was his point of view, he is in charge of the team and results.”

Picture by Paul Dawson
Picture by Paul Dawson

If Pantilimon comes across as a difficult character to manage, he isn’t. Far from it. He’s very easy going, a gentle giant, if you like. One manager he has particular fondness for is Dick Advocaat.

“I was very upset when he left Sunderland,” Pantilimon said. “I worked very well with him. He’s one of the best managers in Europe and I was happy when he continued with us. He was like a father figure.”

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Advocaat was in charge and Pantilimon was in goal when Sunderland secured a goalless draw at the Emirates on the final day of last season. “That was a special moment,” said the Romanian. “We needed at least a draw [to stay up] and we did it.”

Pantilimon is, according to our records, the only member of today’s squad to have won a competitive match at the Emirates, playing in goal in Manchester City’s 1-0 Carling Cup win in 2011. Sergio Aguero got the winner.

“It was my second game for Man City,” he said. “It was a nice feeling. We know they are a great team so it’s a special feeling when you win there.”