Jack Pitt-Brooke: Meet Marco Cassetti - the Italian who prefers Watford to the Eternal City

Life Beyond the Premier League

Marco Cassetti is loving life at Watford so much that he asked Daniele De Rossi to join him.

Cassetti spent six seasons playing alongside the ferocious leader of Roma, the man Roberto Mancini was so desperate to bring to England. But when De Rossi fell out with recently-dismissed coach Zdenek Zeman, Cassetti joked with his old friend to move to the Championship.

“I asked De Rossi to come here in January because of a problem with the trainer, he did not play,” Cassetti says at the end of our interview.

“When Zeman was a problem I asked him ‘will you come here?’ – ‘I’ll come!’ – but Roma didn’t want,” Cassetti laughs. “But now Zeman is sacked, I think now he will start to play.”

De Rossi, in one sense, would fit in perfectly. This is a little pocket of Serie A in Hertfordshire. Since Giampaolo Pozzo, owner of Udinese, bought Watford last summer, 10 players – including Cassetti – were loaned here from their sister club.

Cassetti was speaking in the canteen at Watford’s training ground, where Italian is spoken as well as English. He is comfortable in his new language though, and sat down with The Independent after a multi-lingual lunch with John Eustace and Jonathan Bond as well as Alex Geijo, Geoffrey Mujangi Bia and Fernando Forestieri. Manager Gianfranco Zola – appointed last summer by Pozzo – sits in the corner reading Gazzetta dello Sport between conversations.

Watford this season is the story of a football experiment, and Cassetti is part of it, arriving in the summer after his Roma contract expired. “I was a free agent in June,” he recalls. “I spoke with Pozzo, he said ‘you sign for Udinese but you go on loan to Watford immediately.’ I am happy – football in England is one of my dreams and now I am here.”

Life in England is meeting Cassetti’s expectations. It is easy to think of English football culture as intense and obsessive but after years in the Italian capital, Cassetti revels in the breathing room of the Championship.

“In Italy there is a lot of pressure. In England it is different. The approach to the game is different. Because in Italy, every day of the week there is TV speaking about this team, this player, every, every, every day. Every day. You arrive at the game under pressure and this is not possible.” 

Cassetti remembers the stifling atmosphere in Rome in the week preceding a derby against Lazio: “It is difficult to speak about this, you need to live in the city for a week before the derby. It is difficult because all the people stop you in the street. ‘Tomorrow we need to win, tomorrow we need to win.’”

Despite making his name with a famous goal against Lazio, the favourite moment of his career, Cassetti is pleased to be out of the pressure-frenzy of the Eternal City. He nearly won Serie A under first Luciano Spalletti and then Claudio Ranieri – “a big frustration” – but did not, and his contract was not renewed last summer.

“I prefer now, I prefer this,” Cassetti says. “After six years in Rome, I prefer this.”

As any player would, Cassetti enjoys the less conditional support of English fans. “When you play on Saturday,” he explains, “you finish the match, win, draw or lose, the people know you give everything to win the game and they clap their hands at the finish, not looking at the result. In Italy it is not possible, in Italy there is only one result – winning – or you are stupid.”

After a difficult start, inevitable in any project this bold, Watford have started to play. They have moved up to fourth, and if they win tonight against Crystal Palace, they will, at least until tomorrow, go second.

“Watford this year has the possibility to look up,” says Cassetti, pointing to the ceiling, “to join the Premier League, because we have a good team and good players, young players with a great future. We know it is not easy but we can.”

The fluency and quality of Watford’s football would certainly fit in the top flight. They have won six of their last eight games, scoring probably England’s best team-goal this season, a delightful ensemble piece, in a 4-0 defeat of Huddersfield Town. This ended with Cristian Battochio converting Cassetti’s cross, and at 35 years old the right-back is now more than happy to provide for others.

“I prefer to do the assist than to score a goal,” Cassetti jokes. “I am too old to score a goal. I prefer the young people score a goal.” Like Matej Vydra, the Czech striker, also on loan from Udinese, whom Cassetti set up with another delightful flick last Saturday. “He plays fantastic football this year, he has scored 19, he can arrive at 30.”

The team has improved along with the players, and Cassetti feels increasingly comfortable in the frantic pinball of the Football League. “In England it is more physical, more quick,” he says, “the first month I found difficult.”

Yoga helps, which Cassetti took up at Zola’s request: “Gaffer said to me it is compulsory. In the start I did not want to do it, because I prefer to go home and relax. But I read that Ryan Giggs does the same, and it helps.”

Cassetti’s affection for Zola – always known as ‘gaffer’ – is clear. An Italian with a deep affinity for English football, he is the “perfect” man to oversee this squad-melding. “When I arrived he said ‘now you think it is difficult but in future you will be happy for this choice’, and he is right, it is true. He said you can play until 40 years of age if you want, I hope so, I want to see.”

Although Cassetti’s family have not joined him in St Albans, he spends time with his team-mates, both those brought over by the owner and those here before. “It is a perfect mix,” he says. “I think [technical director] Gianluca Nani and Pozzo have made a great mix in this team.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'