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Watford boss Claudio Ranieri on his relegation battle secret; Emmanuel Dennis on going from potential priest to Premier League player

Exclusive interviews: Claudio Ranieri discusses a key period, while Emmanuel Dennis tells Sky Sports his story; Watford three points above drop zone but have played game more than third-bottom Burnley; watch Watford vs Brentford live on Sky Sports PL from 7pm on Friday; kick-off 8pm

Claudio Ranieri and Emmanuel Dennis speak to Sky Sports ahead of a key run of games for Watford
Image: Claudio Ranieri and Emmanuel Dennis speak to Sky Sports ahead of a key run of games for Watford

Watford's Premier League season starts now.

That was Claudio Ranieri's verdict on Saturday evening, after the end of a brutally tough run of games which had left the club just three points above the Premier League relegation zone.

They had just lost to Manchester City, and played Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester United, Arsenal, Southampton, Everton and Liverpool back-to-back.

But with Brentford, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Wolves next up, Watford boss Ranieri is ready for a pivotal - and hopefully productive - month.

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The Hornets are in good hands. Ranieri's vast experience means he has seen these situations before - and knows what it takes to come through them.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of his side's Friday night trip to Brentford - Ranieri's 1,334th game as a manager - he references one of his first jobs at Cagliari over 30 years ago, where he defied the odds to take them to Serie A and then keep them up.

"I am an old man, I have a lot of experience," he smiles.

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"When I took charge of Cagliari (in 1988), we make Serie C, Serie B and Serie A, and at the beginning of the Serie A season we are at the bottom and all the people and the journalists were saying, 'Cagliari is relegated, relegated, relegated'. And at the end, one day before the last match, we were safe.

"And also when I came to Parma (in 2007), I came in the middle of February and Parma were at the bottom of Serie A and I saved the team.

"Here I want to fight to save Watford from the relegation battle."

Ranieri could also have used his previous club Sampdoria as an example, where he led the team from bottom of Serie A to mid-table after taking over in 2019

So what is his secret?

"The secret is I work hard," he said. "I think I transmit to the players to enjoy playing football and to work hard and fight until the end of every match."

That attitude was displayed in Saturday's defeat to Manchester City when, despite being outclassed for long periods, Watford pulled a goal back at 3-0 down through sub Cucho Hernandez and almost grabbed another moments later when his cross was turned just wide of the post by Josh King.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City's win against Watford in the Premier League

Those two players are part of a Watford forward line which has caught the eye, despite the team's struggles against the Premier League's big guns in recent weeks.

The injury to Ismaila Sarr may have denied them one of their more familiar faces in attack, but, in his absence, summer signing Emmanuel Dennis is making his name.

Factfile - Emmanuel Dennis

  • Signed in June 2021 for undisclosed fee
  • Age: 24
  • Position: Striker
  • Senior international caps: 3 (Nigeria)
  • Former clubs: Zorya Luhansk, Club Brugge, FC Koln (loan)

The Nigerian joined for a modest transfer fee - claimed to be £3.4m by his agent - from Club Brugge. But he is a player who has shone in the past against Real Madrid, scoring twice at the Bernabeu, and is seizing his chance in the Premier League. He has proven to be one of the bargains of the transfer window.

Dennis scored for his former Belgian club against Manchester United in the last 32 of the Europa League in 2020 and he found the net again against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in Watford's remarkable 4-1 win which cost the Norwegian his job.

Chelsea and Leicester are among the other big sides to have felt his force this season, with his return of six goals and five assists only bettered by Liverpool's Mohamed Salah.

Dennis is sure to be key for Watford during this crucial run of games in December. And Ranieri is convinced the 24-year-old - who has been linked with United and Arsenal in the past - is a player who can go right to the top.

"I'm impressed a lot with his performances," Ranieri said. "He's very fast, he scores goals, and makes a lot of assists for us. I hope he can continue in this way. He's young and can score goals.


"I love this kind of player [who can play on either wing or through the middle], universal players, so I can change during the match some position from him, King, Cucho… with a lot of players in front. For me that's very good.

"I think he could play for these big teams. He must continue to improve and I speak a lot with him. I'm sure at the end of the season he can go into the big teams - but also he can stay in Watford!"

As with all clubs, keeping hold of their best talent will depend on whether Watford can retain their Premier League status.

With Ranieri's secret to success and Dennis' quality in front of goal, they have more than a chance.

Dennis: "I wanted to be a priest, but now I'm a baller"

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Watford forward Emmanuel Dennis reveals he wanted to be a priest when he grew up, before becoming a footballer!

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports' Chris Hull, Emmanuel Dennis discussed life at Watford, his rise to become a Premier League player - and how, when he was a young boy in Nigeria, his ambition was to be a priest...

From dreams of being a priest to becoming a player: "No, I never dreamed of being a professional football player. I wanted to be a priest but today I'm a baller.

"I grew up in a family that believes so much in God, and going to church. As a young boy I'd go to church and admire the priest, and I was like, 'yeah, I want to be a priest'. I was 13 or 14

"I was growing up and I was good at football and everyone was telling me, 'you should be a footballer because you play really good'. And my family were like, 'no he needs to go to school'. And then they were like 'OK...' and they pushed me and I'm here."

On wanting Ranieri to take him to Salt Bae's Nusr-Et when Watford keep a clean sheet: "He promised for every clean sheet a dinner. And I walked up to him after the Man Utd game and said, 'you need to pay for dinner' and he said, 'it wasn't a clean sheet!'. I said, 'you're lucky but we'll try next week to keep a clean sheet so you can pay for dinner'. A very expensive one! I like meat, so it's going to be Salt Bae… that one's expensive.

"He's a very experienced manager, he's won the Premier League before. He's very good. You can see his mentality is 'hard work and give everything on the pitch'. You can see he's impacting the team positively. We just have to listen more to him and try to understand his style of football in a very fast way, which we really need to. But he's very good, I'm happy he's here."

On why he no longer supports Arsenal: "I used to be an Arsenal fan. I like Cesc Fabregas. But I'm no more an Arsenal fan. I was so much into Arsenal sometimes I could cry when they lose. That wasn't good for me.

"So I was like, 'nah, I'm going to stick to myself and don't care much because it's not good for my health'. It's just me and myself right now."

Favourite Christmas film? Home Alone, of course: "I like to clown around with my friends, make jokes, tease people. I like to laugh and joke around with my friends. I like to have fun, watch movies with my friends and be happy.

"Favourite movie? Blue Streak - Martin Lawrence. Favourite Christmas film? Home Alone!"

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