Now retired from the professional game, Nathan spoke to Watford Legends in 2018.
Hi Nathan, thanks for talking to Watford Legends. You originally joined Watford from West Bromwich Albion in 2007. How did the move come about?
It was Aidy Boothroyd showing his interest in bringing me to the club, telling me I’d love it there, the plans were to go back up to the Premiership and I’d be playing every week.
That’s what I was looking for, I was looking for regular football again. I hadn’t been playing regularly enough at West Brom. It looked like a good move.
Would it be fair to say that Watford was an opportunity to get your career going again?
I don’t think it was too bad. I just wanted to be a regular, every single week I guess. It was what I was used to throughout my career.
The club had obviously paid a lot of money for you – a club record fee at the time. Did that affect you at all, or is it not something you think about?
It’s got nothing to do with me, I don’t even think about it. It doesn’t make a difference, I don’t get paid any of it!
It’s a club to club thing, for me it’s irrelevant.
Watford had made a strong start to the season. Did you think you’d have to wait to get into the side with Marlon King and Darius Henderson there?
Yeah, they was in the side and had started so well. I couldn’t really say I should be in, they were scoring and we were winning.
I couldn’t say anything at all. I’d come here to play and he’d said I’d play, but when that happens, you can’t do anything.
The hard part was there was no reserve games, no reserve league, so the longer that goes on, the less match fit you become. It was a battle to stay match fit.
Staying fit is fine, but to be able to do things in match at a high intensity for 90 minutes, there’s no replication of a match.
Did you have a preference as a striker partner?
Both Darius and Marlon were playing, and I didn’t really play so I didn’t have a preference or know who was good to play with.
I was thinking about who would have been good to play with, obviously they both did really well. I would be more inclined towards someone with similar abilities to me, someone like a Jason Roberts, a more dynamic kind of player.
I would have said Marlon King would have been someone I possibly could have done well with but I never really played with him so much so I don’t know how it would have been.
The team seemed to struggle a bit from Christmas onwards. How was the dressing room atmosphere?
A few players changed. I know we went more direct as a team.
When I first arrived, I came there wanting to play football, you know balls through the areas, breaking the lines and stuff. I was really excited, trying to ask for the ball.
Some of the players were like “you won’t be able to do that here.”
I was like, “why not, we’ve got good players here we can do that, surely?”.
“That’s not what we’re allowed to do.”
I quickly understood that it’s more about direct play here, you know, getting the ball and battering teams, rather than outplaying teams.
Obviously it was working with the players we had at the start of the season. For me it became very difficult to play football from Christmas onwards.
We brought in a defender who had long throws (Leigh Bromby), Danny Shittu was up front for everything, whenever the ball went out of play. It was all about set pieces, so we were relying on Danny Shittu to score goals, and to be honest, that’s not what I would have liked as a striker. I would have liked them to be depending on me and to try and feed me with quality passes and quality balls in the box.
I just felt very frustrated at that time. We were going for set plays from the half-way line. It was very weird, I’ve never been used to that. It was a very tough time in my career to be honest, to have to play in that type of football.
Thinking back, the play-off games at the end of the season, Aidy Boothroyd changed it a bit and started to play a bit of football. And that was probably your better games for Watford.
Yeah it was. We said why wait till now, with all the players we have. We had a week to get used to playing as a team playing football.
We had so many good players, we could do so much better with the players we’ve got. All of a sudden the shackles are taken off and we tried to play better football but it was a bit too late.
I guess if it was working, he didn’t want to change it. But, to be honest, I had a disagreement in terms of how we played. Everyone’s got their philosophy on how to win games, there’s more than one way to win, so it’s just a difference of opinion on how we play and how we would use the players we had.
The fact that we had really good players who were able to dribble and link up well, I think we should have started doing that a lot earlier in the season. That played towards my strengths, it played towards McAnuff’s strengths, everyone who was in the team. It was just too late.
How did you find Aidy Boothroyd as a manager?
He’s a good guy, a really nice guy.
I liked his company, I liked the way he treated players overall. His philosophy was not to my strengths really. I’ve got nothing bad to say about him to be honest. The way he planned and ran his sessions were all on point. I think the way we played with the players we had was just a mistake, a really big mistake.
The following summer there was a lot of things in the local press that the club were struggling financially. As one of the bigger signings, was there a suggestion the club would try and cash in on you?
Yeah I kind of had a feeling that I was the one that needs to go.
Every game I was going to play I think they had to pay something like £7k to West Brom because of add-ons on the contract. To be honest, I knew that I wasn’t going to start any games, but possibly could come on.
I was supposed to move to Derby. I went on loan with a view to buy, but the manager changed and everything changed again. They saw me as too expensive for a loan player, even though I was top scorer for Derby halfway through the season! I didn’t get to play in the second half of the season so that was weird.
I ended up coming back, Malky Mackay had taken over. He liked me but he knew I wasn’t going to play all the time. But he always wanted to use me, every time I came on I was changing the game so I was always getting thirty minutes.
But again, it was only thirty minutes of me at my strongest, so whenever I got a start, I’d be good at the beginning and when it got towards half-time and in the second half, I wasn’t able to keep the sharpness or match fitness. It was two games I ended up starting in the end because people were injured and they had no choice but to start me and pay the extra fee.
But Malky was really good. He made his decisions based on what was good for the club. I was always involved at that time. I really enjoyed it. It was great football.
I found him one of the best man managers out there. The way he did everything, the way he asked us what we wanted for food pre-match, how we wanted to be dealt with after a match, how we analysed the game, what’s best for us and what we want, rather than I’m doing it and it’s this way. Involving us and letting us have some responsibility. That was really what was good as well.
Playing football, triangles everywhere. Pre-season was great as well, everything we did was with a ball, fitness was always with a ball and you can take your mind off it when it’s with a ball.
You were there when Lloyd Doyley scored as well!
Ha, yeah he managed to get himself a goal. That was funny to see. He was always going to score after so many games, one’s going to fly in at some point.
Looking at your goalscoring record, it was nearly one in two at Wigan and one in three at Bristol Rovers, but you struggled to get that strike rate anywhere else. What was it that clicked up there?
The type of player I am, I do a lot on the ball, I use a lot of power. To not be fully match fit, I can’t do what I do best for ninety minutes.
I always found at the beginning of the season, pre-season I needed all those games and the first game to not get cramp in the game! And after that I was flying.
That’s what I always knew I needed and I think I always got that, up until that West Brom season and then I moved on. That’s the only time I was looked at as a player who’s not going to be a starting striker, so it’s no coincidence it ended up me being a little bit less effective for the whole ninety minutes.
It’s also down to who you’re playing with. So people who know your strengths and who want to play towards it, and they’re not just thinking of themselves as scoring goals. Some players have that selfish attitude of getting goals and not looking at your strike partner unless you have to.
I always tried to find whoever’s there and link up with my striker and find out what he’s best at and try and give him everything he needs and at hopefully at the same time. It’s not often that happens, but Jason Roberts was one of them, Kanu, he was another one, he was unbelievable. When I make a run he just sees it and puts it there. It’s amazing to have someone like that.
Jason Roberts and Kanu were the two who stood out. Then you’ve got Andy Liddell, who was at Wigan, he was someone who taught me a hell of a lot in terms of mentality. He had that devilish attitude of scoring goals and continually scoring as many as you can and don’t rest.
It was great to be around someone like that. Just learning things from him, it was a great time to play around him.
Do you regret making the move to Watford?
If you look at it, I regret what happened at Watford.
I don’t regret the move. My time there was great, the guys were great. The kind of football and not being fully fit was two aspects of why things didn’t go they way I would like them to. They didn’t go well at all if you look at it, so it’s a regret things turned out the way they did. If I knew that’s the way we played, I wouldn’t have moved.
It’s like now I think Man United are doing the same. They’re playing really bad football, playing so defensive that you can’t support the attacking team when it comes. You need players who can do everything on the ball on their own, so what’s happening is the big players are coming to United and not doing a thing. And you’re looking at them thinking how can you not do a thing, look how good you are.
It starts with how does a manager want you to play, what’s his philosophy on the attacking play, and the philosophy is not looking good for the team. And the players are not bad players overnight. Only a fool would look at Sanchez and say you’re a flop, and you know how good he is.
It’s one of those things. If you know your football, you’ll know the reasons behind what’s going on at times. It’s the same sort of thing, I support United, it’s killing me to watch them.
I see you’re still playing a bit in non-league.
Yeah I still play sometimes, when I get the chance to. I train as much as I can every week, I’m in the gym quite a bit. I play for a local team with a few other ex-pros. The majority of them are not pros at all, I try and help them improve as well. It’s just having a bit of fun, playing on the weekend.
What else are you upto these days?
I do Forex trading, that’s my main income. I’ve also got a football academy, helping kids bridge the gap between the amateur and academy level. We also help players to go into the pro game and look after them as well. We’re trying to provide the whole pathway to the pro game and giving them the mentality and the mentorship they need to reach that level. I like them to be more strong mentally and let them know what they need when they get to the pro game and the pressure’s on. You want to have the pressure earlier so then you can get used to that so in a first team environment you’re used to it, rather than just hitting you out of the blue. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway.
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