One Year On – How This Season’s Signings Got On (Part I)

Your beloved writer once briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a teacher. While it became quickly evident that I didn’t have the required energy, passion or lack of disdain for all children, one thing I had in spades was the ability to harshly condemn individuals for their performance despite their best efforts. And so, a blogging career was born, all in preparation for this moment – the end of term report.

 

Acuña, Javier

It was supposed to be so easy. Shore up the backline with a few well-received signings, get some experienced cruncher in to replace Jonathan Hogg while adding a bit of what John Eustace brought to the table, bring in some dressing to make the midfield a bit more fancy and then that remains is to find someone to step into the spirited-away Matej Vydra’s boots. Acuña was that guy.

In fact, he was better suited to our cause. While Vydra made hay while teams underestimated the true force of Watford’s attack, he wilted when they battened down the hatches and made us work for it. At Girona that same season, Javi – nicknamed ‘Crack’ for reasons completely unexplained – had bustled his way to 18 goals in 22 starts. He was a fox in the box with brawn: one of those guys who scores hatfuls of completely forgettable goals. Perfect.

But he didn’t. Not that he really got the chance. Six starts overall, three of them among weakened cup-tie teams, yielded one goal – a thumper with no back-lift against Norwich. It’s hard to remember now who was actually keeping him out of the team, and even harder to recall why he didn’t play more. Sure, he didn’t look like a world-beater in his six substitute outings – playing an average of just 16.5 minutes in each – but given how terribly everyone else was doing that was no great surprise.

A universally popular character, one can’t help but think he might have served the club better than *looks up name* Chu Young Park, even if his impact was felt in the changing room rather than on the pitch. Instead, he was sent up the ladder to Osasuna in La Liga.

Admittedly, he hasn’t done too much there. His goal at Espanyol last week was just his second in three starts and thirteen substitute appearances, but was a big one in the relegation fight that comes to a head this weekend. The point Acuña’s goal gained puts the club two points behind Granada, who occupy the last bastion of safety. Another against the already doomed Real Betis on Sunday could leave the Pozzos with two second tier clubs on their hands.

Despite his lack of goals, Javi seems popular in Pamplona, and appears keen to extend his stay in Northern Spain. Though it wouldn’t mean losing any tangible results, Acuña would be a nice back-up to have, especially given the dearth of attacking talent at the club, even before Troy Deeney’s inevitable departure.

 

Angella, Gabriele

Now then. It has to be said that Angella stands head and shoulders above the rest of the summer’s acquisitions – without question. The tall, attractive centre back is the one signing whose pre-season expectations have held water, and is if not the first defensive name on the team-sheet, a sure thing selection in a back three. Add a more-than-respectable seven goals to that and it looks like we’ve finally hit on a complete success story.

But he has his flaws, which go completely unheralded. Part of that is down to the sloppy nature of his colleagues this year, and the furtive way in which he makes his mistakes. Angella is not one to get caught in possession like an Ekstrand, play a Cassetti-ish suicidal ball across his own area or let the odd weak shot scuttle through his legs as we’ve seen at times from both Messrs Almunia and Bond, but watch all of the goals conceded by Watford this season in slow motion and in many you’ll see Angella, his man completely lost, wandering in no man’s land.

This is a bit nit-picky – no defender can be expected to be completely infallible, but it is a significant weakness that has cost us points this year.

It’s near impossible to judge footballers from their on-pitch dispositions, so to say that Angella’s heart isn’t completely in it would be presumptive, but it would explain his occasional lapse of concentration and work-rate. We tried to get Gabi from Udinese in the first summer, before he went on to play a significant role for the mothership. This year, having finally nabbed him as part of our intended jigsaw completion, he must have expected little more than a victory lap before diving into Scrooge McDuck’s Premier League vault. His body language suggests he feels he’s above it all, and his January retweeting of news stories linking him with a move to Sunderland didn’t do anything to quash that notion.

But it could be that his laid-back and disinterested expression is just how he rolls. Those who keep a close eye on Twitter – that’ll be all of us, once football’s done and we need to be entertained by banal talk until the World Cup – will notice that Gabi has regularly been the first to wish his teammates well on their holidays and off-season injury rehabilitation. Now that he’s free from the crippling expectation of being a Watford player, he’s a model, caring teammate, and not just one of those guys that retweets the hell out of his mentions tab.

I would be overjoyed if the Florentine was still around next year, ready for another pop at promotion: with Deeney more than likely off, we’d miss his goals more than anything. I just wish he looked a bit more happy while he did it.

 

Belkalem, Essaid

Summer 2013: Dubbed, ENTIRELY SERIOUSLY*, by former Vital Watford editor and now PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST, Tom Bodell as “the Algerian Bobby Moore”.

Spring 2014: Nominated on the Watford Mailing List for induction into the Watford Klutz Pantheon.

To semi-quote Blur’s best song: he’s not that good, but he’s not that bad. There was a lot of hype surrounding the defender based mainly on his previously linkage with Lyon and caps for Algeria. He had an underwhelming start, due to not having a pre-season; he had an underwhelming middle, due to picking up an injury; and he had an underwhelming end, due to being too slow, too lumbering and too out of position.

He seems like a stand-up guy, as he was built up to be, but he’s not an English footballer. You can’t imagine him returning next season, and the impact on Watford will be negligible.

But he’s probably going to the World Cup, so who gets the last laugh really?

*It’s very possible he wasn’t being serious.

 

Brown, Reece

Who?

Birmingham’s then-17 year-old midfielder Reece Brown has played in as many minutes of league football in Watford games as “Watford’sReece Brown this season.

Norwich’s Rhys Browne has played more football at Vicarage Road this season than Watford’s Reece Brown, and even scored a goal.

Both stand a better chance of getting on the pitch in a Watford match next year than Watford’s second choice leisure wear model.

reece brown

Reece Brown puts on a brave face despite being the third best defender at the shoot.

 

Diakite, Samba

Brought in at a time when our midfield corps was suffering from an onslaught of injuries and departures, Diakite was the latest in a long line of attempted Jonathan Hogg replacements. Iriney wasn’t up to it, Josh McEachran was as vanilla as they come and George Thorne, the only one to show promise, was back at West Brom to vie for Pepe Mel’s affections (unsuccessfully). He came as something of a cult favourite at QPR – not especially good, and exiled to the margins of the squad by Harry Redknapp, but lovably direct and likely to put in a ludicrously violent challenge.

So something to remember is that we were down to the bare bones when he arrived: a week prior to his arrival, faced with a phenomenally in-form Manchester City we had to choose between having Luke O’Nien marking Yaya Toure or playing a completely new formation. And then, once he actually got here, we got to be quite good for a bit, and having played only 56 minutes of football all year, he struggled to get into it.

All of which is making excuses of course, because after an hour of his Watford career, Diakite was declared public enemy number one. His first, and only, start at home to Middlesbrough brought with it a sluggish and, yes, incompetent performance: every touch was wayward, every pass misguided until a 52nd minute red card for a lunge on Dean Whitehead put us all out of our misery.

Diakite’s crimes were irredeemable in the eyes of many and the next time he set foot on the Vicarage Road turf, he was roundly booed. No other player this has disgraced the club by putting in a shocker when clearly unfit. No siree.

The guy only got one more meaningful chance to change these already made-up minds and in his 40 minutes against Huddersfield he seemed to be the only player who cared. He ran all over the pitch, closing down where team-mates were watching idly, taking on the ball where his colleagues backed off. An unquestionable man of the match.

I would assume that he’s collecting quite a fair wedge at QPR, having only signed a 4 year contract after a £4 million move in the summer, so joining permanently is probably out of the question given he would be a squad player, but we could do with a player with his directness and complete lack of pretension. Murray and Battocchio are similar players, and though they both like to put their meagre frames about admirably, neither have the power to drive through the midfield with players bouncing off them.

And we wouldn’t dare, while last summer every signing was heralded as a master stroke, this year scepticism is the over-riding stance and Nani and his staff need some home-runs to keep the fans onside. Diakite may be a useful addition, but it would also be bad PR, because football fans have an uncanny ability to cling to the saddle of their prematurely mounted high horse.

 

Fabbrini, Diego

We moan about Diego, but at his core, he is simply a victim of geographical determinism. The man from Pisa has many admirers, most of whom probably haven’t really looked too closely at him. In fact, they are in love with the idea of him, and don’t care that the grim reality is hugely underwhelming and virtually bereft of any qualities whatsoever.

Growing up watching tourists traipse the two miles from the grubby station just to get their photo taken pretending to hold up a fairly featureless monument, only to flee back to Florence or Rome, having only added the price of a Big Mac to the town’s economy must have taken its toll on a young Diego. He was destined to reproduce such a show of unfathomable crapness throughout his footballing career.

Fabbrini came in summer, was rubbish apart from a game at Reading that I missed, and then left for Siena where he has started five games in three months; scoring one goal and presumably being otherwise completely useless. For further analysis of his shortcomings, one can scour this website for a multitude of rants and character assassinations.

I will, however, say this: I was laughed at and ridiculed in January for suggesting that Joe Garner was a better player than dear Diego. WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?

 

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2 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Nathan Lowndes, Football Genius and commented:
    Terrific.

  2. […] you missed Parts One and Two of this fantastic oeuvre, you can find them here and here, […]

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