In the team for your club, then not. In the team for your country, then not. Quotes in national press saying you want to leave, links with Manchester United and then being named as Watford’s first-choice keeper.
It’s been a rollercoaster 12 months for goalkeeper Dan Bachmann, who is set to start his sixth season at Vicarage Road after signing from Stoke in 2017.
The Austrian international had the pre-season boost of being named as first-choice keeper by Rob Edwards last weekend, after starting only four Premier League games since Christmas.
“Obviously being told I was first choice made me very, very happy,” said the 28-year-old.
“I want to play football and I want to help get the club back to the Premier League.
“Having worked with Ben Foster for the last few years, it’s been a change having Maduka Okoye here. That meant for the first time in my career I was the oldest goalkeeper! But then that didn’t last very long because Ben Hamer has joined.”
How did he find out he was Edwards’ first choice? A formal sit-down meeting? A casual conversation?
“To be honest, with the bit of experience I’ve got now you do feel it in training and in games,” he said.
“It’s not like you have a sit down, formal conversation. You do sort of seeing it coming and in chats with the manager and keeper coaches on a daily basis.”
Bachmann has started every pre-season game this summer, although he had a keeper’s nightmare in the 2-0 defeat to Bolton when his heavy touch on a back pass set up their opening goal.
“Football is a game of mistakes and things happen. When I came off at half-time I couldn’t remember a game where I’d played worse in my career,” he said.
“That sort of error shouldn’t happen. I like to think I’ve got good ability and a bit of experience now, and I shouldn’t be doing that.”
With the game played behind closed doors, the lack of crowd noise meant everyone also heard the keeper shout “Kaba” at a somewhat started Christian Kabasele just as the Bolton forward slotted into an empty net!
“Yeah, as a goalkeeper that’s the rule – you’ve got to look at someone else!” laughed Bachmann.
“It was a chain of errors and I made the biggest one, and when you’re a goalkeeper that usually ends up in conceding a goal.
“It wasn’t just that goal which annoyed me in that game, there were a few little things that I wasn’t happy with in my performance. It was a bad one from me and I have to hold my hands up.”
With all games now recorded from various angles, even friendlies and training sessions, Bachmann likes to use watching even the horror shows to improve himself.
“Regardless of how I think I’ve played, I do like to watch games back and analyse my performance.
“Things do look different on the screen, and sometimes I’ll think – and I’m sure people watching games do too – that ‘he should have saved that’. But then you see different angles and realise it wasn’t what you remembered at the time.
“I think it’s good to watch things back and see what I’ve done well or not so well, how I could do things differently. It’s a big part of improving your game.”
Edwards said that the hard part of picking a goalkeeper is you can only have one, and that means the others have to sit on the side. How does that manifest itself with the keepers?
“As a group of goalkeepers we get on very well, and with Mads it’s great because we both speak German. That gave us an instant connection,” said the Austrian.
“We know our job and we all accept only one of us can play and it’s down to the others to support the one in the team. That’s how it worked with me and Fozzie, whoever wasn’t playing was there to help the one that was.
“Being second or third choice is not what you want, and it’s not enjoyable when you are, but we know it comes with the job. We push each other in training, we make sure there’s a good intensity to everything we do.
“The keeper group now is a lot younger than in the past, and that has led to things we do being quicker. That’s great.”
The new head coach has created an exceptional impression since he arrived, and Bachmann is very impressed.
“For me personally, it starts before we even get onto the training pitch. He’s quite young and relatively new in the management business, and he’s got a really refreshing enthusiasm. That rubs off on the players.
“We have a younger group of players than we had last year, and with Ben and Rob Elliott gone I’m in that more senior group. With Rob coming in, he’s brought that freshness and enthusiasm which the players then feel too.
“Training is enjoyable again. There’s a spring in your step because Rob wants to run and show you things. He gets involved. Because that’s how he is, as a player you also get a spring in your step.”
Other players have remarked that Edwards is at the heart of training sessions, a contrast to the level of involvement previous managers have had.
“He doesn’t join in with games, but the way he moves about within the group on the training pitch and the way he physically shows you how he wants things done and the positions he wants you in, it comes across so well,” said Bachmann.
“He speaks very well in meetings too. That has really impressed me. That was the first thing that struck me the first time he came in and talked to us – he talks really well.
“We’ve all enjoyed working him so far, and there is a real positivity. We’ve not had the greatest set of pre-season results, but although we want to win in those games the results don’t really matter.
“I thought the game against Southampton was very pleasing even though we didn’t win or score. We know we need to develop that cutting edge, but I thought standing at the back and seeing the whole pitch we looked very solid.
“Not conceding goals easily was a big part of how we got promoted last time. We didn’t score that many goals when you compare us to Norwich, or to Fulham last season. But we were hard to score against. I played 23 games and kept 13 clean sheets – not that I keep notes of those things! I’m proud of that as obviously the less you concede the better chance you have of winning games.”
When the club talked earlier in the summer about a need for a reset and a change in culture, that has clearly happened on the playing side.
“You can’t get a bigger difference than between Rob and the last two managers we’ve had!” said Bachmann.
“They were really old school, and Rob has made a complete change because what he does is very modern in its thinking.
“His personality is very different too. He’s upbeat and really friendly. His tactics and his personality make me feel really comfortable.”
The change of coach has also meant a change of playing style, with Edwards preferring three at the back.
“For a goalkeeper, playing behind a three or a four doesn’t really matter,” said Bachmann. “Maybe other goalkeepers would tell you differently, but it makes no difference to me.
“With a three then you maybe have that wingback who might be free more often to give you different distribution options. Other than that the system doesn’t make a difference.”
The behind closed doors friendlies meant it was easy to hear Bachmann’s voice booming across the pitch.
“I think that because I can see the whole pitch and everything is happening in front of me, then I can help the rest of the team. If they don’t listen that’s fine, but I feel I want to try,” he said.
“If I say nothing and something happens where I could have helped by talking, then I’ll regret it. So I like to talk and encourage.
“I’m not someone who looks to dig out their teammates. I’d never have a go at someone if they make a mistake, even if that leads to a goal and we lose the game. I make mistakes, everyone does.
“I like to try and help. We have quite a young squad and the senior players that we have need to be leaders and as loud as they can in supporting the younger players. I think the importance of talking on the pitch can be a bit underrated.
“At the back you’ve got players who use their voice. Christian Kabasele and Craig Cathcart talk a lot during games. Francisco Sierralta is trying! His English is improving and you can hear him in games.
“One of the things I always say to the other lads just before we go out on the pitch is to keep encouraging each other. Keep pushing and keep being positive.”
However, Bachmann is also aware that sometimes there is the need for the voices to be doing more than just cheerleading.
“There may be times where you have to say something a bit stronger – you know, making sure players are switched on or doing their jobs. But you do that in the right way. It’s part and parcel of what goes on in a game.
“If someone needs to say something to me when I’ve had a nightmare, I respect that. When we’re out on that pitch we are professionals trying to win games. It’s not personal.
“Last year, that wasn’t the case. We had some players who couldn’t deal with that, and they took things personally. That then leads to arguments on the pitch, and then another massive argument at half-time and it carries on again in the dressing room after the game. That’s not what you need.
“If I have to say something more critical to a teammate on the pitch, it’s not personal. It’s purely professional. I want to help my teammates do the right things and make the right decisions.
“When we got promoted last time, we had a strong unit who understood that and knew that whatever was said on the pitch was never personal. The players all got on well, and there was loads of encouragement.
“When you’re in a football squad, you’re a family. You probably spend more time with the lads than you do with your wives, girlfriends and kids! In the Championship, with so many games, you’re travelling a lot, spending nights in hotels. Having a strong, united group of players is a significant factor in being a successful team.”
For Bachmann, there were times last season where he felt isolated by the football management, particularly when he lost his place in the team.
“I didn’t get any explanations or answers. I started the season in the team and I thought I did well in the first game against Villa, and generally in the first few games.
“I know I should have done better with the free-kick from Son in the game at Spurs, but overall I thought I was doing ok.
“I actually thought one of my best performances was against Wolves despite us losing 2-0. And then I was dropped the next week. That was difficult to understand.
“But with Ben being here, and him being a legend at Watford and as a goalkeeper generally, the manager made the decision to change things. We won at Norwich and Fozzie stayed in the team.
“Then I came back in and played 10 or 12 games under Ranieri, and I felt better than I did in the first four games. I’d played in the opening games, had the setback of losing my place, but then come back into the team. Sometimes a setback does you good.
“But then Ranieri went and Roy Hodgson came in, and I knew then I wasn’t going to play. I saw the managerial appointment and thought ‘it’s going to be difficult for me to keep my place’. Roy had the connection with Fozzie from England, and that’s fair enough.
“Ben Foster has had a fantastic career and he is a fantastic goalkeeper, and knowing him so well did make it a bit easier. But it still hurt, and I didn’t really get any answers.”
Having sat on the bench as the Hornets slid towards relegation, Bachmann had another let-down once the drop was confirmed.
“I was supposed to play the last three games of the season and I didn’t. That’s another story I won’t go into.
“I did play against Chelsea though and I was really satisfied with my performance. I thought we did well as a team that day, and I was so pleased for Dan Gosling to score. It made me really happy because he’d had a really tough season. People don’t see things like that.
“If fans had seen how Dan Gosling trained every day – and at one point he wasn’t even in the 25-man squad – they’d have seen he is the best trainer at the club, every single day.
“I read his interview in The Watford Observer the other day, and I saw a few comments online and on social media suggesting he was just bitter, and he wasn’t good enough to be in the squad anyway. But people who make comments like that don’t see what actually goes on.
“Even when Dan wasn’t part of the squad and so couldn’t even play in games, he was still the best trainer in the club. He was the best player on the training pitch, he never missed a training session. That’s why him scoring in the Chelsea game made me really happy for him.”
While Bachmann was out of the side, an interview he gave to Austrian media later appeared in the English press, portraying him as wanting to leave the club because he wasn’t playing.
“I wasn’t happy with how those interviews came across, no,” said the keeper.
“I can only assume people put things in Google Translate and it comes out in a different way to what I said. Even one word different can change the whole context of what’s said.
“I was away with the Austrian national team, and I was playing for them but not for Watford. It was a big story over there because I was Austrian No.1 but not Watford No.1 “I was asked about what’s happening with me in the January transfer window, and if I was looking to leave. I said I was a Watford player, and I’ve been at the club for years. Watford is my first option but you never know what will happen in football, and we can only see what happens in January.
“That then appears in newspapers in England as I want to leave! That’s not what I said. In football you never know what is around the corner. Things can change daily.
“I don’t think I said anything I regret because what I said was exactly that – we can only see what happens in January. I didn’t say I wanted to leave. I think I’m the third longest serving player here now, and there’s no way I’m going to leave Watford lightly.
“My family are happy here, my kids start school here in September. It was a bad translation. In the past I’ve probably said things I did regret, but on that occasion I really did just say that we’d have to wait and see what happens in January.
“Then it appears differently in English media, and I saw the things some of the Watford fans said. All I kept thinking was I didn’t say that. I’ve come to love this club and there are always rumours, which are part of football. But I didn’t say I wanted to leave or that I wanted to get out of Watford.
“I’ve had a lot of downs while I’ve been at Watford but I’ve also had the best season of my career here, and most of my best times have been here.
“I’m happy here, I want to play for Watford and I want to help get us promoted back to the Premier League. No player in the world knows what will happen when a transfer window opens, but I didn’t say I wanted to leave then, and I don’t now.”
However, that naturally brings us onto this summer’s rumours that Bachmann was heading to Old Trafford.
“It’s obviously very flattering having a conversation about Man United, and I fit the profile of what they were looking for. And that was it really.
“For a club like that to show interest in you is nice clearly, and it felt nice. Yes, I won’t lie, we had conversations but I’m a Watford player, I’ve been here five years and I’ve got two years left on my contract. I’m only 28, I could stay here another 10 years or more.”
Was he tempted to join United then? Bachmann paused, smiled and said: “I’m a Watford player, aren’t I?!”
Many players have talked in interviews in glowing terms of the new mood in the camp, the changes made by Edwards and the unity at the club. However, Bachmann knows that next week, the talking has to stop.
“It’ll always be difficult to convince fans with just words. What they need is for us players to go out on the pitch and show them.
“We have a young team and we will get better as the season goes on. I don’t expect, for one minute, that we’ll go out on Monday and give our best performance of the season. This team will get better and better.
“One thing you can be sure of is that from Monday, every single player will work themselves into the ground. But technically and tactically we are going to improve game on game.”
The keeper said he shared the pain of the fans last season – along with nearly all his teammates.
“I know last season was very difficult for the fans. It was hard for us – well most of us, some people didn’t give a toss. But for most players last season wasn’t nice, so I can only imagine what it was like being a Watford fan.
“And yeah, you can hear what the fans are shouting, especially as a keeper being near the stands. It’s not nice, when you’re playing at home and you hear and feel the pain in your own supporters’ voices. Most of the players knew they had tried all they could and we weren’t trying to throw games away. It wasn’t a case of the players, on the whole, thinking ‘oh screw this, I’m not bothered’.”
One of the hardest parts for the squad, Bachmann said, was that the dreadful results and performances brought their ability into question.
“It hurt because it felt like we weren’t good enough,” he said. “We had the quality to stay in the Premier League. But there were so many games where we leading or drawing and ended up losing.
“It was all down to attitude. We weren’t short on ability, we just had a few players who didn’t care. Dan Gosling mentioned Ozan Tufan – he was probably the least of the problem, if I’m being honest. He wasn’t good, but he also didn’t play that much.
“There were people playing week in, week out, who showed no interest on the training ground. That created a bad atmosphere.
“I’m not saying that all the people who have left the club were a problem. That wasn’t the case. But since players left the atmosphere has changed completely. The attitude in the group has changed completely.
“We have a good young manager and a good young coach alongside him, and we have worked hard with them throughout pre-season to start the season with a totally fresh mindset.”
The need to win back many fans who sat through home defeat after home defeat, or who spent time and money travelling to see the white flag hoisted, is not lost on the players.
“We want to reconnect with our supporters because we know we lost a lot of them last season,” said Bachmann.
“They are going to be important for us this season. Last time we went up we were playing in empty grounds and yet we still had a superb home record. The supporters can play their part in that being the same this season.
“But to get back to that we have to perform in a way that makes them want to be on our side. Last year we hardly gave them anything to smile about. That has to change, starting on Monday.”
There was only one question left to ask: does he have a GoPro and a YouTube channel?!
Bachmann smiled, gave a little nod of understanding and said: “I don’t, and I never will. It’s definitely not for me!”