WHEN he was growing up as a Chelsea fan in Watford, Sean Murray never imagined that he would end up playing for his local club under the stewardship of his Stamford Bridge hero.
Football has a habit of throwing up surprises, however, and the Italian takeover of Watford last summer brought about a sudden change in the 19-year-old's working environment.
The Pozzi family, who have owned Udinese since 1986, decided to enter the world of English football and their plan involved the appointment of Gianfranco Zola as manager.
The diminutive Chelsea legend, aided by a loophole in the Championship loan rules which has allowed him to bring in a host of Udinese players, is mounting a promotion charge.
Ahead of tonight's trip to Ipswich, Watford sit third in the table. While Cardiff are streaking away at the top, Watford are just three points behind Hull in the race for the second automatic promotion place.
The prize is significant, and that's why Murray (pictured below) accepts that he needs to be patient about his first-team opportunities, which have been limited in comparison with last term.
"You can't be knocking on the door saying that I should be playing when the guys are doing perfectly fine," said the Irish U-21 international, who came off the bench in last Saturday's drubbing of Birmingham.
Zola is a huge fan of the technically proficient youngster, who is a product of Watford's partnership with the forward-thinking Harefield Academy, a local secondary school which facilitates the development of footballers in tandem with their education.
The Watford hierarchy are certain that Murray will play a big part in their future and the manager has given the player an arm around the shoulder when necessary.
"He says he has faith in my ability and my skill," said Murray. "He's always said to me that, when he feels I'm right for the team, he will give me the chance."
Murray idolised Zola when he was younger – "it was fine being a Chelsea fan from Watford, not many people were Watford fans!" – and says it was "surreal" when the Italian was unveiled as the Hornets' boss.
The 46-year-old has brought a new approach to training and likes to join in when he can.
Murray, an attack-minded midfielder who can operate both wide and centrally, knows he cannot let the opportunity to learn pass.
"The knowledge he gives us is second to none," he said. "He's been a wide player and a striker so he understands what I want to do and, if you are learning from the best, then you have to listen.
"The way we've been training is enjoyable – mainly small-sides games. It's been going very well for us in the league so the regime is obviously working."
Murray, whose grandparents moved from the Cabra area of Dublin to England in the 1950s, has been part of the Watford set-up since U-17 level.
He is part of a small Irish group which has come through the academy to the first-team picture, with centre-half Tommie Hoban and attacker Connor Smith also part of Zola's plans, although injury has affected their progress at various times.
With 14 games to go, it promises to be a hectic run-in and Murray senses he will get to contribute.
"The manager likes to switch things around," he said. "There's a lot of games still to be played so I've just to make sure that I'm ready to take my chance when it comes."