Blimey, here’s a novelty: a permanent(ish) transfer from an un-Pozzoed club! Geoffrey, as he will hence be known for expediency’s sake, comes highly bigged-up by the Official Site – ‘one of Europe’s most exciting wingers’ say they, and one who was chased by a host of big European clubs. On the face of it, it seems like this signing could be a monumental coup for Watford, and the pay-off for buying into Udinese’s “amazing” scouting network. Of course, the lower leagues of the world are filled with ‘next big things’ and ‘second comings of Maradona’, so the lyrical that the website has so readily waxed should be taken with a pinch of salt.
So who is Geoffrey Mujangi Bia? Born in Kinshasa, in what was then Zaire – most famous for Apocalypse Now and Michel Ngonge – he moved when he was young with his family over to his colonial fatherland Belgium. It was here he first dipped his toes into the world of professional football, spending four seasons at RSC Charleroi – all in the Jupiler League, the top flight of Belgian football. In his first full season, 2007/2008, at the tender age of 18, Geoffrey made seventeen appearances, scoring three goals. This coincided with Les Zebres (it’s impossible to escape the spectre of Udinese) reaching the dizzy heights of 8th in the league. The following season, with John Collins joining the club as Head Coach, he pushed on, playing in thirty games and scoring seven goals. Though still a teenager, it was at the end of this season that his reputation as a future star was realised with a call-up to the Belgian national squad. Granted, it was as a part of the squad to travel to the Kirin Cup, a friendly tournament in Japan comprising of three national teams, none of whom take it particularly seriously, but that he started both games at such a young age suggests that there were high hopes for the adolescent winger.
In January of 2010, Geoffrey sealed a loan move to the Premier League with Wolves. He struggled to break into the first team, four brief cameos as substitute his only league action until the penultimate game of the season, when he made his first league start in a 3-1 defeat to Portsmouth. Ominously, he was hauled off at half time, replaced by none other than one Christopher Iwelumo. Despite this inauspicious spell at Molineux, he was re-signed for the following season’s assault on the Premier League. This season was even less fruitful, however, as he made only three appearances – only one of which was in the league. That summer he returned to Belgium, but was immediately transferred from mid-table Charleroi to Standard Liege, giants of Belgian football. Champions the season before, The Reds finished 4th, with Geoff scoring twice in 23 games.
Which brings us to this summer. After one successful season with Liege, it’s too early to say if he has tapped into the potential that saw him taken to the Premier League or involved in the Belgian senior squad. For a young player, uninitiated to the competitive nature of English football, it will have been a bit of a culture shock, and with a lot of wingers at the club at the time, struggling to break into the first team was no disgrace. That his loan was renewed implies that Wolves saw something in him, and perhaps at Championship level we may be able to bring that out. Romelu Lukaku, a player bigged up to the stratosphere in his teenage years, shares a similar background to Geoffrey, and he struggled to adapt in his first year in England – though at a club slightly higher up the food chain than Wolves. Now on loan at West Brom, he’s starting to show the talent that interested European scouts during his time in Belgium. So why can’t our guy?
The deal that brings him to Vicarage Road is officially a loan, but we are told that terms have been agreed and that Watford have an option to make the deal permanent in the summer. The ball, then, is in our court. There are murmurs that the squad is beginning to resemble the one we had in the Vialli era – a changing room consisting of a myriad of nationalities, with no cohesion or sense of continuity. Then, when players turned out to be, shall we say, unsuitable for the rigours of English football, we had to pay them to go away; now, through our strategy of only taking on international loans, if a player isn’t good enough, we can show them the door free of charge.
With regards to Geoff, he’ll probably need some time to get up to pace with the English game. Against Bradford on Tuesday he shone in spells until running out of steam after around an hour. Maybe lacking a bit of strength, he was still able to retain possession through impressive ball skills and agility. It’s never fair to judge a foreign player after his full debut in a new country, so we can allow Geoffrey his sporadic disappearance, but his ball retention and impressive two-footedness hints that he could be a useful squad player this year, and maybe beyond.