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Blissett on his beloved Watford, Albion and his career

Watford legend and ambassador Luther Blissett predicts a tough season for the Albion ahead of Saturday’s opening game of the campaign against his former club at Vicarage Road. But he likes the attacking ideas of new boss Graham Potter – whom he once coached - and believes that Neal Maupay has the pedigree to score goals at Premier League level.

By Nick Szczepanik • 09 August 2019

By Watford FC
Luther Blissett

Luther, of course, knows all about scoring goals. He helped Graham Taylor’s Watford team rise from the fourth division to the old first division between 1978 and 1982, playing 503 games for the Hornets in three spells and scoring 186 times, both still club records. He won two golden boot awards, collecting one from Italy legend Gianni Rivera after moving to AC Milan in 1983. He had scored a league-best 27 goals for Watford in 1982-3, his first season in the top flight, beating Ian Rush of Liverpool as Watford finished second and qualified for the Uefa Cup.

By Rex/Shutterstock

He also played for AFC Bournemouth as well as representing England on 14 occasions, scoring a hat-trick on his debut against Luxembourg, the first England goals scored by a black player. But Watford are the club closest to his heart and he admits that he is still not quite over the 6-0 defeat by Manchester City in the FA Cup final.

“No, that was an awful day, one of those that you wish you could go back and start again,” he says. “Everything went wrong. But on the other hand the players had done very well to get there. They reached their second semi-final in four seasons and this time won through in style [3-2 against Wolves after being 2-0 down]. Now it is vital that they take that next step, even if that only means turning up on the day and doing themselves justice.”

And Luther agrees that Watford’s season as a whole deserved to be remembered for more than its final game. “Javi Gracia, the manager, has done brilliantly in giving the team direction,” he says. “I don’t think morale will have been too badly damaged, and Vicarage Road is now a great home ground with a good, noisy crowd and anyone who hadn’t seen it since I was playing would just think: ‘Wow!’

“Midfield is where the team has the strongest players at the moment and Abdoulaye Doucoure is now widely recognised as a top performer. I think there is more to come from Gerard Deulofeu. He could be more consistent and have more influence on games for longer periods.

“We could also be stronger at the front. In tight games we are short of that quality striker who gets you a vital equaliser when you’re behind or can find a winner when you’re level. The top six all have players like that.”

The arrival of Danny Welbeck from Arsenal may go some way to solving that problem - but the player Watford really need is, surely, another Luther Blissett? 

 “Turn the clock back 40 years and I might have a chance,” he laughs. “At 21 I might be able to do a job for them again.” He is too modest. A brave, strong, quick forward who knows where the net is would not only score plenty of goals even in today’s Premier League but would also command way more than the £1 million that Milan paid Watford for him in 1983, if a club could be persuaded to sell.

“Harry Maguire went for £80 million this summer but Sergio Aguero would be worth at least the same if he came onto the market,” he agrees. “Everybody is trying to find that sort of player, or someone like Callum Wilson at Bournemouth, who is not only a good finisher but has the pace to get behind defences.

“But if you want to be successful you have to carry a threat, and Watford do – but not at quite the level of City, or even Wolves, who have those difference-makers. We tend to do it more with more of a team approach because we haven’t got that one exceptional forward.”

Albion hope they have found one in Maupay, who could make his Albion debut at Vicarage Road. “Scoring goals is an area in which Brighton fell down last year and Maupay is a big signing for them but I think he has a big chance to be the right man,” Luther says. “It is vital that he gets into his stride as quickly as possible and develops a good understanding with his team-mates, but goalscorers will always score goals if the team makes the chances for them.

“I played against Brighton a few times over the years, and in the 1980s they had a good team and the Goldstone was a hard place to get anything. It was good to see them get back into the top league and hold their own for two seasons. This season might be a bit more of a challenge but Graham Potter will bring something a little bit different.

“I was actually a coach at York City when he was a player there and you rarely think ‘He could be a manager one day’ at the time but it is great when that does work out. If he can get Brighton playing in the manner that he did at Swansea then I think they will be okay.”

Although born in Jamaica, Luther is a proud Englishman and the Cricket World Cup was a highlight of his summer. “It was brilliant,” he says. “I’ve never seen an end to any final as exciting as that or witnessed anything like the Golden Over. It was one of those moments that you will never forget and England played the situation very, very well.

“Now we want to see the men’s and women’s football teams follow their example and do as well. Both have been close on a couple of occasions and it is so important that you learn from those experiences and are able to improve and make sure it happens for you next time. I like what Gareth Southgate is doing a lot. His England side are going in the right direction. We have even broken that curse of the penalty shoot-out and don’t even think about it now.

“I honestly believe that if we can win that first tournament, that we have a chance to emulate what Spain have done and go on to win others. We certainly have enough good young players coming up to sustain any success we might get. It is just a case of them playing regularly enough at their clubs and getting experience, especially at top level because it’s only by playing against the best players that you can improve.”

Among Luther’s many current interests are two charities, the Sporting Memories Foundation, which aims to fight dementia, depression and loneliness through the power of sporting reminiscence, and Kit Aid, which provides recycled kit to both children and adults in some of the world’s most underprivileged countries.

“We take kit to Malawi and other African countries where people find it hard to get equipment they need to get involved with sport. I collect anything I can get my hands on and then take it out there for kids and young adults. It’s a very worthwhile charity because a lot of these kids don’t have anything. A football kit is a prized possession and something important for them to have.”

Follow Luther Blissett on Twitter: @lbliss8

Kit Aid: https://kitaid.net

Sporting Memories: https://www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com

 

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