With a transfer embargo lifted, Watford yesterday confirmed the signings of seven (SEVEN) new players. Rather than the worrying wholesale number it seems, this amounts to the cumulation of a summer’s recruitment. With three of the players looked at already (Abdi, Pudil and Vydra), it’s time to look at the rest, starting with the nineteen year old striker, Steve Leo Beleck…
As ever with a mass arrival of players, there will be differing expectations for each. One would expect Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall to take up starting roles almost immediately, while the likes of Matej Vydra will have to prove their fitness before coming into the squad. In my book, the most unknown of quantities is that of Steve Leo Beleck.
There is no question that Watford’s greatest need is for a goal-scoring striker. Marvin Sordell was not replaced after his departure in January, instead we made do with Troy Deeney, who performed admirably in his new role as go-to man. But now, with Troy gone for a stint at Her Majesty’s pleasure – perhaps never to return – there is nobody to fill the void. It has been noted time and time again in the last few weeks that for all our nice play in pre-season friendlies, good link-up play involving Abdi, Murray and co, excellent crosses from Pudil etc, the team has been lacking a distinct cutting edge. Joe Garner is never going to provide this. With Zola seemingly chucking Chris Iwelumo on the compost heap at the bottom of the allotments, Garner is the only senior striker at the club and – to put it kindly – is not the most prolific. He’s a willing runner, no doubt, and wins an awful lot of free-kicks, which is unquestionably his greatest attribute, but one goal in 22 appearances (a tap in from 6 yards at Millwall), is not good enough to be what will essentially be a lone striker this season.
Thus, with Vydra, the other incoming front man, apparently perpetually injured, the pressure seems to be on Beleck to make the spot in the middle of an attacking three his own. Perhaps this is pressure unfairly imposed; after all, at 19 he is younger than Vydra, and has very little experience in professional football – only 40 games, in which he has scored 9 goals, but the signs are quite good.
With Panthrakikos (not to be confused with the famous Athenians Panathanaikos), the Cameroonian’s first club, in dire straits and facing relegation from the Greek Superleague – a moniker previously used for the League of Corinth* – the club decided to thrust a strapping sixteen year old striker into the fray. Our boy, standing at over 6 foot and with pace as well as power, made an instant impression, scoring five goals in 13 games. Not bad in a side destined for relegation.
This promising start to the Yaounde-born striker’s career was the reason for its stalling. Panthrakikos were relegated and cashed in on their new star by selling him to Udinese – though Spurs were also reportedly interested – for around €600 000. Unusually for a young player at the club, he spent the 2010/2011 season at the club, not involved in first team duties, but not farmed out to a lesser club either. Last season, he was sent back to Greece for a loan deal at AEK Athens, where he overcame a rocky start to score four goals in 17 starts. The abundant YouTube sources on Greek football gives us clips of strong running to set up team mate Eidur Gudjohnsen, good strength and a nice finish as a sixteen year old for Panthrakikos, and his first and second against Panaitolikos in October – notable in the last clip is the turn of pace that Beleck shows to get into a goalscoring position, which should come in handy with Sean Murray and the soon-to-be-introduced Ikechi Anya on either side of him.
Averaging a goal every 309 minutes, it can hardly be said that Beleck has proven himself prolific thusfar in his career (still better than Garner, who scores one every 400 minutes), but at 19, he should be judged on what comes next, rather than what has come in his first years in the game. Unfortunately, it seems there may be undue pressure on him to perform immediately, which his time at Athens and his raw ability suggest may not happen; but to read about him, one can’t help but be reminded of Gifton Noel-Williams, a big, strapping young striker, propelled into men’s football at 16 to instant plaudits – a man capable of causing defences problems with his strength as well as his surprising pace. Gifton was my first hero at Watford, and that he did not fulfil his potential, through no fault of his own, is a tragedy. Perhaps in Beleck we have his successor, a man who can pick up where Paul Butler ensured Gifton left off. Time will tell.
*a joke for all you Ancient History buffs
Come back later for looks at the other new signings: Ikechi Anya, Fitz Hall and Manuel Almunia