Now playing at Cambridge United, Piero spoke to Watford Legends while at Accrington Stanley in 2013.
Hi Piero. How did you get to become a youth player at Watford?
I was spotted whilst playing Sunday league football when I was about 13. It was a scout that noticed me and I got invited along for a six week trial period. I ended up playing through all the age groups before being given a scholarship and then spending three years as a professional.
Did you find it a good club to be at?
Definitely, a great club. I remember when I first had the trial and everyone was telling me about what a great club it was to be at for a young lad like me. I was told some stats about how Watford had more young lads coming through than any other club in the country at that time so from my point of view it was a great club to be at as I knew if I worked hard enough I would get a chance.
Who was the manager who gave you professional terms?
It was Malky and I will always be grateful to him for it. I played against Cardiff earlier this season for Accrington and it was good to see him. He is a very nice man and always made me feel so welcome and really made me feel part of things. He helped me out a lot and I have a lot of time for him.
What was the standout highlight for you from your time at the club?
It would have to be my full debut at home to Hartlepool, which was very special to me and a real highlight. I had an inkling it might have been happening when we were going through some shape work in training on the Thursday and I was in the group with people I expected to start and then I found out on the Friday that I would be starting.
Is it better to find out the day before or would you rather have found out a couple of hours before kick-off?
Everybody is different but for me I preferred that I knew the day before. Sometimes it can be good to keep it late so that the players that only make the bench still prepare properly but for that game I was pleased to have found out on the Friday.
So there you are, stood in the tunnel about to go out and make your full debut after years coming through the ranks. How does it feel?!
It is an unreal feeling; it is something every kid dreams of. In many ways it is quite surreal and it flies by – I can’t remember much of the game but I can just about remember my goal. The game went by so quickly though, I do remember feeling that afterwards. It was what I had always dreamed of so it was an incredible feeling and something I will always remember.
You’ve lived a childhood dream of mine by scoring for Watford, what a great way to mark your debut.
Yes it was a great feeling but I didn’t get to make the best of it as we were losing at the time so I couldn’t really celebrate too much. I ran back to the halfway line to get the game re-started quickly so we could go and win it but I regret doing that now and wish I had made more of it. But I do remember thinking that if we lose the game then the goal would be worthless so all I was worrying about was winning the game.
Did it take a while to sink in, that you had scored on your full debut?
It wasn’t until quite late that night that I felt it kick in. I had a few friends and family at the game and they all came round in the evening to see me which was great. After they left I sat watching the highlights on TV and saw the goal again and my whole body just kind of relaxed and took it in that I had scored a goal in the F.A Cup. It was a really strange feeling.
Your last year at Watford seemed tough for you.
I was on the bench a lot the season before that along with other lads such as Matty Whichelow. We got in in a few games and were amongst the team and that gave us some real belief that we were going to see our involvement increase. At other clubs, you see some lads play a couple of years of reserve football and then build up to the heights of the first team but we kind of went the other way and had first team involvement and then slipped back a bit.
After that season where we had been around the team we thought we would have a good season but then Sean Dyche came in as manager and had different plans that didn’t really involve us which was obviously a bit of a shock.
Did he explain why you weren’t really involved?
He didn’t really have anything to explain to be honest. He said he wanted to get more experience in the door to try and help him do a good job as manager and he did a very good job so his decision can’t be faulted. I still keep in touch with Sean and speak to him on a regular basis so there are no hard feelings, that is just the way football is.
Zola came in as manager and released you, was that a surprise?
Not really, we knew early doors we weren’t part of the new regime so we had to try and find a new club to try and sort our careers and get them back on track. With the new lads coming in from Udinese and what have you we knew it wouldn’t be for us so we effectively spent the year trying to sort out a move for the season we are in now.
I imagine as a player that has come through the ranks the club has changed a lot in your time.
Yes it has. When the takeover happened and the new lads came in it was all new but we got on well with all the new players but it was a time also to try and get our own careers going. The club is doing really well at the moment and they were really close to promotion last year. When you see the set up at the training ground you can see it is set up for the Premier League and it will be in a Premier League club within a couple of years – no doubt about it.
What was the most noticeable difference at the training ground after the takeover and new management?
The food! In Europe they are massive on nutrition and that was evident when new chefs were brought in to the training ground and every day it is a five start buffet. A normal lunch used to be chicken or fish with a load of pasta or veg but now it is different types of pasta, olive oil, olives, and cured beef. I remember in training getting excited about it finishing as that meant it was time for lunch!
Did it make it better having a year of being under contract at Watford but knowing you’d be leaving in terms of having the time to sort a new club out?
I’m not sure it is much different to be honest. I can’t stress to you enough how tough it is to find a new club and to try and stay playing in the league. I’m good friends with Matty Whichelow and look at him now – he is playing part time for Borehamwood.
What was the deal with Matt – he seemed to show a huge amount of promise but then dropped away?
He was the same as a few others in that he found it really tough and a shock to not really be involved in the first team. After the involvement we had enjoyed the year before we can in expecting to be involved and Matty had aspirations of becoming a key first team player and he took it badly when he couldn’t get in the team. When you look at where he is playing now that probably shows you how tough it is so I am over the moon to still be playing in the league.
How did the deal at Accrington Stanley come about then?
I was on loan there anyway for three months the season before and I did ok, so when I found out my contract we managed to sort it out and arrange a deal from there.
As a southern lad up north, how are you fairing?!
Ha it is ok. It is a young squad so we all get on quite well. It is very different to living in London but it is a job at the end of the day so I am grateful for that. I am really enjoying it though and I am playing games and getting plenty of minutes under my belt so it has been a good move for me so far.
And I saw you popped up with the winner at the Riverside in the cup at the start of the season?
Yeah that was a great way to start the season for me and obviously a real highlight. The results for us haven’t been as good for us as we would have hoped so far this season but from a personal point of view that was a moment I really enjoyed.
Are you still in contact with any of the other lads you played with at Watford?
Yes I’m still good mates with Matty Whichelow, Dale Bennett and Eddie Oshodi. We all got on well when we were playing at Watford and we have stayed mates since which is good.
Dale Bennett is another that I thought would have continued playing at a higher level.
He got a very good offer from Forest Green and they are like the Manchester United of the conference. They are an incredibly rich club and make no mistake they will be a league club in a year or two. It was a great contract he got and a good move as they are a good club to be at.
So would you say you enjoyed your time at Watford overall?
Yes I loved it, it was brilliant. Zola was great to me and he was the first person to text me after I scored that goal at Middlesbrough which shows how thoughtful he is. We have shared the odd text after various games this season if Watford or Accrington have had a decent result. There were certainly no hard feelings when I left and I have no hard feelings whatsoever towards the club or anyone there – it is a great club and I only have good memories from my time there.
Thanks for your time Piero, good luck for the season.
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