Monday 21 October 2019

Indifferent to game off field, Capoue is desperate to extend Watford cup run on it

Wafford midfielder Etienne Capoue admits that his real passion is for basketball rather than football. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Wafford midfielder Etienne Capoue admits that his real passion is for basketball rather than football. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

Etienne Capoue is quite clear how he feels about his chosen profession: when he is in a game or on the training pitches at Watford, there is nothing else on his mind, but when he is away from it, then football occupies far fewer of his thoughts than you might imagine.

At 30, this elegant holding midfielder is almost six years in the Premier League, first at Tottenham Hotspur and, since 2015, a mainstay of Watford's side.

He started at Wembley in 2016 when the club lost an FA Cup semi-final to Crystal Palace, coming off after 32 minutes with injury, and he is determined it will be a different outcome when the teams meet at Vicarage Road today in the quarter-finals of the competition.

Growing up in the town of Niort in the west of France, he became a professional at Toulouse at 18 and says he was always eager to play in the Premier League, so when the chance presented itself at Spurs in their post-Gareth Bale sale splurge, he jumped at it.

His style is intense and he admits to "trash-talking" his own team-mates on the pitches at Watford's Hertfordshire training ground, where we meet.

He likes to feel pressure, he says, but when that is over he prefers to indulge his real passion, which is basketball, and the NBA.

"If it is a choice between watching an NBA play-off game or the Champions League, 100 per cent I watch the basketball," he says.

"I just love it. It's been a passion since I was young."

His friends in Niort play for their hometown's basketball team in France's non-professional game.

Capoue watches them when he can and it is clear his devotion to basketball goes a lot deeper than the average Premier League player who likes to be seen watching the NBA game at the O2 Arena. What does basketball have over football?

"It is more entertainment," he says. "The thing I like is you can't hide your talent in basketball. In football there are 11 players on the pitch so if 10 do well and one does not, you don't see it. In basketball there are five (on court) and if one messes up, all the team fail.

"The five players have to be good and if they are not, the coach changes straight away. If you miss a shot you have to shoot again. You have to think anew. If you think about missing it your game is over. That is why I love it, the psychology of it.

"Football is different. You can do (something) bad, but if you are still competitive it is OK. You can make a challenge. But if you are not good in basketball you see straight away because it is all about tactics.

"If you make a mistake your opponent is going to score. In football, if you miss the tackle there are five guys behind you. That's why I love basketball."

It is not an argument he makes lightly, and he feels no obligation to be anything other than honest.

He competes on the pitch nonetheless, and in an intensely competitive era for the members of the France national team he has seven caps to his name.

The last came in 2013 and he snorts with laughter when I ask if he checked this week to see if he was in the squad. Did he watch this summer's World Cup?

"Not really. Holiday for me is holiday. I watched a little bit of the semi-final. When you are with the (wider) family, they want to watch, so I watched it with them."

He added he was proud to be French and that winning the World Cup demonstrated the quality of the squad.

His wife gave birth to their third child this summer so it was a busy few months.

"I don't want to go home and force my wife and kids to watch football," he says.

Meeting Palace means a reunion with Wilfried Zaha, whom Capoue infamously fouled in Watford's home league fixture in August, getting away lightly with a yellow card from referee Anthony Taylor. Capoue does not argue with that.

"I didn't realise it was that bad. When you see the angle the ref saw it is not like... crazy. I understand why he gave me a yellow card, but in one way I was very lucky. I didn't mean to do that. I am not this type of player and he (Zaha) was not injured. He kept going. Phew."

Come 12.15pm today, Capoue says he will be fully focused on securing an FA Cup semi-final place. He really fancies 90 minutes at Wembley, for which his thoughts will be on the game and nothing else.

"I love playing so much," he says, "I just enjoy the moment." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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