Nordin Amrabat revealed Spanish clubs were lining up to take him back to La Liga in the summer but that he was determined to stay and fight for his Watford future. And boy has he done that.
The effervescent Moroccan was one of those identified to make way for the influx of new foreign signings, with Walter Mazzarri subsequently admitting he was “the one that struggled the most to start”.
Watford looked to have superior options to Amrabat in the forward areas, and the absence of natural wingers in Mazzari’s preferred formation saw the January signing from Malaga deemed provisionally surplus to requirements. But, to his immense credit, he knuckled down and took the unlikely opportunity afforded to him at right wing-back due to the unsuitability of Ikechi Anya and the longer term injury to Brice Dje Djedje. He’s now made that position his own and Daryl Janmaat, the club record defensive purchase, will have a fight on his hands for the shirt when he gets back from a fractured shoulder.
“The difference is I’m playing more now,” Amrabat said in an interview with the club’s matchday programme. “If you come on for 20 minutes it’s difficult to do something, but when you are in the first XI you can show yourself. If you play, you enjoy your football. If you don’t, you don’t enjoy it. It’s simple. When you don’t play it can be hard to enjoy what you are doing. but if you are part of the team and play every week, you enjoy everything you do more. Even things like watching football on television; I do a lot more of that when I’m playing.”
There is some doubt over who identified Amrabat in the winter window. The club will tell you they wanted Matty Phillips or Jefferson Montero yet the fact Amrabat never spoke to Quique Sanchez Flores would indicate he wasn’t recruited at the behest of the head coach. We do know that he was recommended by Quique Pina, the former president of Granada. The fact Sanchez Flores started him in only four of his 11 league appearances suggests the head coach was either slowly bedding him in or didn’t fully trust him. He even left him rooted to the bench against Norwich for not following instructions against Liverpool. That, and the change of head coach, left him in limbo in the summer.
“There were clubs in Spain who wanted to take me on loan but I was waiting to see what happened in pre-season, because of course my preference was to stay at Watford if possible,” he said. “For me it was important to fight for my place and prove myself here. I’d only been here since January and I’m a fighter, so I was sure I wanted to stay.”
Amrabat pinpoints the first game of the season, against Southampton, as the turning point in his Watford career, but we felt it came in the second half of the otherwise sorry team showing against QPR when he came on at half-time and gave Watford the energy and drive they had lacked.
“I didn’t actually play a lot in pre-season but then I played the first Premier League game and that was like a chance,” he said. “I knew if I could prove myself and show the coach that I was ready. I played well in that game and then thankfully stayed in the team against Chelsea and Arsenal.
The threaded pass that allowed Roberto Pereyra to tee up Juan Zuniga for the crucial second against Manchester United and his assist for Troy Deeney on Saturday have been his standout moments.
“There is most definitely more to come,” he said. “I don’t feel I’ve shown the fans fully what I can do yet. Last season it was difficult to show them what I am about, and this season I’ve been able to do that a bit more but I can still play better.”