Javi Gracia remains proud after humbling FA Cup final defeat
Photo by Getty Images/Daniel Leal-Olivas

Javi Gracia remains proud after humbling FA Cup final defeat

Watford were dispatched 6-0 by a rampant Manchester City side, but their Spanish head coach shed a positive light on what was nonetheless a special occasion for the club.

Jake Horwood

Misery on the pitch cannot break the intactness of pride off it. Anyone doubting the theory should look no further than Watford manager Javi Gracia.

In their first FA Cup final for 35 years, the Hornets were simply outclassed by a stunning Manchester City side who, after their victory, claimed the first English men's domestic treble of all time. History was made at Wembley Stadium, at the poor expense of those on the receiving end of a truly historically great side.

It goes down as one of the heaviest defeats the showpiece fixture has ever seen, but such a fact was far from obvious in Gracia's post-match press conference. The Spaniard sat down in front of the journalists and took the earliest opportunity to applaud his players.

"It was a very tough day," he said. "With that result, I know it's a difficult moment now to recognise our efforts but I think my players deserve the recognition."

Difficult afternoon

As the goal tally increased, a sense of helplessness protruded from the Watford end of Wembley. This season's Premier League table indicates that the best are rapidly breaking away from the rest, and City's measured yet brutal demolition of the Hornets served as further empirical evidence to that notion.

Nevertheless, Gracia was keen to restate prior to the game that, eleven against eleven in 90 minutes of football, anything can happen and no single team is invincible. The Hornets had their chances to defy the odds, but eventually paid the price for their profligacy.

"Today we've lost, today City were much better than us but there were different moments. We started the game well, we created the best chance through Roberto Pereyra after ten minutes. We needed to score that chance if we wanted to have some chance in the game.

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"After that, to speak about one or two plays is difficult after we have lost 6-0, but I'm happy with the first part of the game," Gracia proclaimed. "After that you have to concede if you leave them spaces they will show their quality because they are very good players. We congratulate them and there is nothing else to say."

The scoreline is, to an extent, deceiving, at least from a Watford point of view. The brilliance of the Citizens was awe-inspiring yet the Hornets kept themselves in the running for as long as their bodies and minds would allow.

In fact, the first-half was a rather positive spell. City took a two-goal lead through defensive errors which looked more the product of wear and tear than a lack of quality, yet Watford, for the most part, did well to restrict the chances of their opposition and looked fairly incisive in attack.

Of course, the second-half proved to be a different story entirely, but Gracia feels he and his players can learn from the encounter.

"I think we did really well in the first-half. We've played against them three times in all of the games and I think we've competed well. It's true that in the second-half it was very tough for us, but we tried. It was a good experience.

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"I know in this moment it's hard for all the Watford supporters but we have to look at the future — not dwelling on today or the past. We are not satisfied with this defeat but I think it will be good for our future."

The last FA Cup final to witness a winning margin of at least six goals was back in 1903 when Bury defeated Derby County 6-0 — it remains the largest victory the occasion has ever seen, another piece of history onto which City have carved their name.

When alerted to the fact, Gracia ignored the statement and simply issued a reminder of the high regard in which he holds his players and fans.

"I'm proud of my players, I'm proud of my supporters. All of us know how difficult it is for us to be here in a game like today. As you can see our supporters were here until the end, and the crowd are a big part of this club. I've nothing to say apart from really good words for my players.

"Of course, it's difficult to accept this defeat for all of us, but we are a team. We've enjoyed this season a lot but today we suffered."

Commendations for City

While Watford's players took on some of world football's elite, Gracia sat in the opposite dugout from a manager whose mastery of the game has created a historical aura about his identity despite being just 48 years of age.

Pep Guardiola shared a lengthy conversation with his compatriot after the final whistle. When asked about the subject of their discussion, Gracia responded:  "Nothing — I congratulated him. I don't think he told me anything, only congratulations and nothing else."

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City were and are fully deserving of those congratulations, too. In the space of two years they have amassed 198 Premier League points leading to consecutive league titles. They have also triumphed in both of the last two Carabao Cup competitions, while victory in this year's FA Cup takes Guardiola's major trophy count at the Etihad Stadium to five.

Statistically speaking, no team has dominated English football at the extent to which the Citizens have in the last couple of years, and comparisons have been drawn to some of the great teams gone by in a bid to evaluate just how good they are.

They are working their way through a conversation containing the likes of Arsenal's invincibles, José Mourinho's Chelsea and the Manchester United treble winners of 1999, but Gracia prefers to appreciate City for their own excellence rather than gauge their achievements among others.

"I don't like to speak about that," said Gracia. "There's different teams at different moments — amazing teams. At this moment I think City deserve their recognition because they're doing really well. They've won many trophies and they deserve all of the good words that you can say. I don't like to say if they are better or worse than others because that's not fair."

A special day for the club

No one affiliated with the Hornets could have predicted their meteoric rise to the final, and the occasion was momentous for all involved even if the result on the pitch was far from desirable.

As each goal went in, Watford's head coach turned to his right and observed the yellow half of the Wembley crowd which was unwavering in its support. Indeed, by the fifth blow, the whole Watford end pulled together to create a breathtaking flag display which was significant in many ways of the togetherness which Gracia has so often emphasised as a crucial facet of the club as a whole.

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"I am very proud of my supporters," he said. "It was difficult for them but they supported us until the end and I am very proud of this club. It is difficult for me to explain with words my feeling for them. I am very proud to be a part of this club and very proud of them.

"It is difficult to accept this defeat, but we have enjoyed this season a lot and today we suffered together. Sometimes you have to live this experience, to lose these games and do it better in the future."