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Exclusive with the returning Adrian Mariappa

This interview first appeared in print ahead of the FA Cup semi-final with Crystal Palace – and we’ve published it online for the first time to mark Adrian Marriappa’s return to Vicarage Road

Watford will always have a special place in Adrian Mariappa’s heart.

The first game he ever went to see with his father, at the age of ten, was Watford competing in the FA Youth Cup. At that point Mariappa had already been playing for the club for two years. By the age of 25, the Harrow-born defender had played in the Premier League in a Watford shirt, captained the club and become a firm favourite among the fans, who love nothing more than a wholehearted youth product. Mariappa left Watford nearly four years ago, joining Reading and then Crystal Palace, but his affection for the Hornets burns bright.

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“I grew up supporting Liverpool but I don’t support them anymore, so truly I probably was always more of a Watford supporter,” Mariappa said. “It definitely has had a place in my heart for a long time. I grew up there and played there from when I was eight to when I was 25, which is a long time to spend at a club, so it definitely did. I have lots of special memories from my time at at the club.”

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Mariappa racked up 216 appearances for Watford and grew into a player of Premier League pedigree under the guidance of former centre-backs Malky Mackay and Sean Dyche. The versatile defender picked up Watford’s Player of the Season award in 2012 and his growing reputation alerted the likes of Newcastle, Wigan Athletic and Reading, the club he eventually left for. Mariappa left the season before the Pozzo family took over at Vicarage Road. Does he look back and wish he had stayed?

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“I’m delighted for Watford,” Mariappa said. “I mean the first season after I left, the boys got to the play-off final and I was gutted they didn’t go up because I still speak to a lot of the boys from that time at the club. But seeing how the club has done now and the backing they’ve got this year and the new developments to the stadium show that they are a really top club now. The owners have a great experience in taking teams from the first division into the top divisions in other countries and they’ve used their experience well, brought in a lot of top quality players and I just think the whole infrastructure has moved towards Premier League standard. Any player going there can see that it’s now an established Premier League club, so they’ve definitely made the right strides forward in the right areas.”

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Watford’s approach to life in the Premier League third time round could not be more contrasting to their first two. They recruited well, were solid at the back and were virtually safe by Christmas.

“The one thing for me watching Watford now is their style of football,” said Mariappa. ‘I remember when we went up from the Championship under Aidy, we played very fast-paced football, very attacking football, but Watford have come up this year and first and foremost they’ve been really solid defensively. I think when that is your base coming up from the Championship you give yourself every chance, and when you’ve got strikers like Troy and Ighalo up front then you’re always going to be a threat. So they’ve got a real mix in their side and tactically they’ve been very good, which shows in their league position.”

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Mariappa may have moved on from Vicarage Road but he certainly hasn’t forgotten the people he left behind. Least of all Troy Deeney, not that he’s the kind of character you’d forget. He and Deeney struck up an unlikely friendship and one that passed its toughest test in 2012 when Deeney was sentenced to ten months in prison for affray after an incident outside a Birmingham nightclub. Mariappa was there for his friend in his time of need, lending Deeney’s family £10,000 to help support his now wife Stacey and their young son Myles while his wages were suspended.

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“If it was the other way around I know Troy would’ve done the same for me,” said Mariappa. “To be fair I didn’t see it as a big thing, so to speak, just a friend helping out a friend. We are good mates and we speak to each other quite often. He’s a good friend.”

Mariappa’s generosity gave Deeney a lifeline, one he grabbed after he came out to turn both his life and his career around.

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“I’m glad the way he’s responded when he’s come out – he’s really grown up as a person and his career has gone from strength to strength, which is a real testament to him,” Mariappa said. “I’m delighted for him. Captaining a side in the Premier League is a massive achievement in itself. Add to that the form he has been in and he’s just so big to the club now, which is massive for him, and I’m proud of him.”