Watford FC's 'Mr Fixit' always on call

Julian GUYER
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Watford FC player liaison officer Lorenzo Libutti pictured at the club's complex in London Colney, on Janaury 25, 2018

It should have been a welcome day off for Lorenzo Libutti and a chance to spend some time with his wife shortly before the birth of their second child.

But then English Premier League club Watford appointed Spaniard Javi Gracia as their new manager -- their tenth since 2012 -- and Libutti was back at the club's Colney training ground, just north of London, to help the new boss and his backroom staff settle in.

"It was supposed to be my day off," Libutti told AFP in an interview at Colney just days after becoming a father for the second time. "My wife was not very happy but we came here and met the manager, his new staff, and organised everything for the first week."

As Watford's team administration manager, it is easier to list what Libutti's job does not entail than what it does.

"I started as the player liaison three years ago," the 27-year-old Italian explained. "I used to work at the stadium (Vicarage Road) doing business development. I was there for two or three months.

"The role was selling sponsorship but then came player liaison and they were looking for someone who spoke Spanish, Italian and English.

"I decided to apply and I've been at the training ground for three years now. The role of player liaison is helping the players as the first point of contact, for example when a new player or manager and their staff arrive. Helping them feel welcome and with their everyday life -- houses, accommodation.

"Then the job got broader, slowly, I started to be more responsible for helping the manager organise training for the next day, notifying the players of the times they need to report etc etc."

- 'Expect everything' -

Highly-paid players who have had a cossetted life in professional football can be a little naive about the outside world, sometimes leading to strange requests.

"There was one that was actually very funny -- my first baby was two months old so the hours you can sleep, you try to sleep. I received a phone call from a player, I'm not going to say who. It was the international break and he was going to play for his national side in South America.

"It was 3:00 in the morning. I was a bit worried, why is he calling at this time? And he said: 'Lorenzo, one question, how do I get from Terminal Three to Terminal Four at Heathrow?' -- at 3:00 in the morning! I said, 'listen, I'll call you back in a couple of minutes; and I Googled the bus route in Heathrow."

He added: "It's not always like this. But many of them since 15 or 16, they get used to a life that's not for the majority of people.

"They live a life where everything is given to them, they expect almost everything."

Libutti's initial task when he meets a new player can be to help them find a house, but the most tricky aspect of his job often involves making sure they are eligible to play in England.

"We have to act very quickly when we have players coming from South America or Africa needing a visa immediately to play the next week," he explained.

"With the Home Office (Britain's interior ministry), and lawyers, usually these things take time. But when the owner tells you (the player) needs to play in three days, it's very stressful. But you do everything you can."

Watford's current foreign players include the prodigious 20-year-old Brazilian Richarlison, former Barcelona man Gerard Deulofeu and the highly coveted young Frenchman Abdoulaye Doucoure.

- 'Reality of football' -

How Libutti, who together with a colleague and Watford's club secretary also helps arrange the squad's travel and accommodation for away games and pre-season tours, returned to Britain -- he took an international business degree at Hull University in northern England -- is a story in itself.

"I was working in Thailand for Ducati motorcycles -- it was a great experience. But after two years we decided to go back to Europe.

"I started to send CVs, I like football, and thought it would be great to work in football.

"I'm a Roma fan -- there's only one team in Rome. They say there's also Lazio, but it's not true!"

One of those CVs arrived at Watford three years ago and it was not long before he was translating at press conferences for his compatriot Walter Mazzarri, who was then Watford's manager.

"It opened my eyes in many ways," Libutti said. "When you are outside, you watch football, you only watch the 90 minutes and then you say 'why is that player not playing well, why is the team not doing well?'

"The reality is you understand that football is not only the 90 minutes on the pitch, it is the whole week."