LUTHER BLISSETT: People say Watford have exploited a loan 'loophole' but Zola has established us as a force really quickly
10:56 GMT, 13 March 2013
18:15 GMT, 13 March 2013
Luther Blissett played more than 500 games for Watford and helped them to promotion from the fourth division to the top flight between 1975 and 1982. He won 14 caps for England, scoring a hat-trick on his debut at Wembley. Blissett also had a spell in Italy at AC Milan before playing for Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth and short loan at Ossie Ardiles’ West Brom in the early 1990s. In his debut Footballers’ Football Column he looks at Watford’s promotion challenge, defends the club's controversial loan signings and looks at racism in the game….
Footballers Football Column with Luther Blissett
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I’m very pleased to see Watford challenging at the top of the Championship. For all the years I have been associated with them, they have been successful club. Either challenging for promotion or the top spot, so it is great to see Gianfranco Zola’s side continue that tradition.
When they whole takeover by the Pozzo family came about, there were people who were worried that their Watford was going to drastically change.
And yes, there have been changes, but there is a long-term plan and the success we are having this season so far has been welcomed by everybody. It has opened a few people’s eyes and even the sceptics have come round to thinking, ‘Wow this is amazing.’
On the up: Marco Cassetti and Almen Abdi have helped Watford become promotion challengers
Loan star: Ikechi Anya is one of the players on loan from Grenada who have helped Watford into third
Hornets are buzzing: Matej Vydra's 20 league goals have been crucial for Watford
It has been great for the town and everybody connected with the club and hopefully they can carry on and see the job all the way through to the Premier League.
There has been a lot of talk about the way the club have operated in the transfer market and particularly the loan signings from Serie A side Udinese and Spanish club Granada who are also owned by the Pozzo family.
But the talk has only really come about in the last month or so since we played Crystal Palace and Ian Holloway spoke about it. But we are two-thirds of the way through the season and they have been here since the start, so why is it only an issue now
Working together: Watford owner Giampaolo Pozzo and manager Gianfranco Zola are aiming for promotion
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The opportunity was there for Watford to sign these players on loan, the rules allowed the club to do it. People are calling it a loophole now because Watford, in their eyes, have benefited from it, but the interpretation of the rules is the most important thing and the owners have looked at it and thought that this would be a good way of establishing Watford as a real force in this division really quickly.
When the takeover happened and the links with the two clubs were made clear, it as one of the fears among the fans that we would not see any of our own players and the club would lose its identity, but the blend has been very good between the home-grown players and the loan players.
You have the skills and the technique of the players who have come in and then you have the understanding of what the Championship is all about, plus their own ability from the home-grown players, so it has been very good.
It is a case of now trying to carry that on into the Premier League, if we get there, then trying to build on that and be able to hold our own in that league and become an established Premier League team.
I believe we can win promotion and I have felt that way since around October time. Our away form has been phenomenal, so if we can get our home form to match that then I think we have a very good chance.
Gianfranco Zola has done a great job. I speak to fans at game and they are blown away by the style of football we are playing at the moment.
The football they are producing and the quality of players we have at the club has really struck a note with the supporters and you just hope that it is the start of something big.
If Watford are promoted, it will be interesting to see if we will be playing against QPR and my old manager Harry Redknapp. QPR’s win over Southampton a few weeks ago was massive, not just for the points but for the belief it has giving them, they will now be thinking, ‘We can do this’.
They still have an awful lot to do and they still are relying on other teams dropping points, but the belief is there.
I played under Harry at Bournemouth at the beginning of his managerial career and I don’t think he has changed in that time.
The thing that struck me about him when I played under him is that he is very good man manager.
He does not take the training sessions. He is like a chef, a chef will get all the right ingredients to make a dish work, Harry is the same, he is very good at getting the right players together and then the coaches put the finishing touches in place.
Starting out: Luther Blissett played under Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth
Still the same: Blissett says Redknapp has not changed during all his years in management
But Harry makes sure all the right pieces are there and guide them in the right direction.
That is Harry’s biggest strength, being able to spot the pieces of the puzzle and put them together.
Talking of managers, I was very pleased to see the appointments of two managers last month, Paul Ince at Blackpool and Chris Kiwomya at Notts County. It is a step, only a small step, in the right direction for black managers in this county.
When I think back to when I started playing at the end of the 1970s, I knew wanted to be a manager, so I took my first coaching badges at 17 to give myself the best possible chance to be a manager when I finished playing.
I always believe a job should be given to someone based on their ability, not the colour of their skin or who you know someone who knows someone. Football has been like that for too long and too many managers have got jobs based on that.
Dream debut: Blissett scored a hat-trick for England during the 9-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley
Making his way in the game: Blissett made his name at Watford before moving to AC Milan
I have not been a fan of something like the Rooney Rule but if it gets black mangers an interview where in the past they were not getting that opportunity, then it is a step in the right direction. I used to send off applications for jobs and occasionally I would get a letter back saying they are looking for someone more experience.
I used to wonder how much experience the people who were sending letters to me had How many games had they played I have played in different leagues and in different countries and then when someone tells me I don’t have the experience is an insult.
What about the first person who managed a football team, the first person who managed a big business What experience did they have You learn on the job but you have to be given that chance first time by someone.
A step forward: Blissett was pleased Chris Kiwomya got the Notts County job and Blackpool appointed Paul Ince
I watch Match of the Day and I hear pundits talk about certain players and say: ‘He’ll make a great manager when he retires’ and I just think ‘Why Because you know him and he played for the same club as you’
That is their premise. How many of those pundits have ever said that about someone like Ince or Sol Campbell You hear them tipping certain players, but it is never a black player.
It is not the pundit being racist or prejudice, it is because it is not in their psyche to see a black manager. It is an unconscious thing. That needs to change.
That said, the problem with racism is better now than when I started playing in the 70s. Racism was a problem then, not just in football but in society, there were TV shows like Love Thy Neighbour in which racism was normal.
Time to move on: Blissett says racism was worse in football and society in the 1970s when shows like Love Thy Neighbour were on television
Doing the right thing: Blissett praised Kevin-Prince Boateng for walking off when he was racially abused
Staying on: Samuel Eto'o was racially abused while playing for Barcelona but was persuaded not to walk off by team-mates and officials
I was abused at every stadium I went to, not just by fans but by opposition players as well. At 17-18 it had an affect on me.
But when I was in Italy at AC Milan it was bad as well, but they are making some progress, after all they were the first players to walk off the pitch.
Kevin-Prince Boateng was abused in a friendly game playing for AC Milan
and he booted the ball into the crowd and walked off, I thought it was
brilliant. And what made it better was that all his team-mates went off with him. That was fantastic.
Not dealing with the issues: Blissett would like to see the authorities really clamp down on racism rather then fine players like Nicklas Bendtner for showing a sponsor's name on his pants
Years ago Samuel Eto'o was going to do
the same thing when he was playing for Barcelona and he was persuaded by
his team-mates to stay.
PROSTATE CANCER UK
When I was a player at Watford, Graham Taylor created a family club and encouraged us to help in the community.
have lost members of my family to cancer. So if I am able to do
anything to help raise money or awareness then I am more than happy to
do so. It is something that everyone will be touched by.
UK men are currently living with the disease, and every year over
40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer that is unbelievable.
along with Prostate Cancer UK, who are The Football League’s official
charity, we are doing a bike ride from London to Amsterdam and keen to
get fans to come along and join us and raise money, it will be an
amazing experience. I need to get on my bike and practise, it is the
saddle soreness I need to get used to more than anything, but I am
looking forward to it.
CLICK HERE to find out more about the London to Amsterdam bike ride.
If those players at that time had walked off then it would have sent a massive message out across the world.
Players have to realise they are in a very powerful position. If you were abused like that in any other profession, nobody would think any ill of you walked away, so why shouldn’t footballers do the same
The people who run football always go on about ‘the beautiful game’ and make a point of respect in the game. Where is the respect for the players who are abused like this
It is all well and good having T-shirts with ‘Respect’ on them and it ticks a box for the authorities. But when it comes to actual incidents they are the ones who have to take firm action, they just walk away from it.
Yet they will fine a player like Nicklas Bendtner for showing his pants with a sponsor on them. It’s madness.
Where were the UEFA officials at the U21 game when the England players were being abused in Serbia When you look at the people who run the game and they decide to punish the players who have been abused for the last two hours, as they did with the England players, then it shows they have no idea what racism is.
These people who run the game really need to get some education and learn about racism.