Essaid Belkalem’s stay at Watford was one of great contrasts. While during his loan spell he often appeared off the pace and struggled to make an impact on the first team picture, signing on a permanent transfer seemed to transform the big Algerian.
Since signing for Watford permanently in the summer of 2014 he has not put a foot wrong domestically and has even elevated his game to the point that he was named in many reviewers team of the world cup’ round of 16.
Though he seemed to be an afterthought in the Algeria squad that travelled to Brazil, by the time their third group game came around, a pivotal tie with Russia to decide who would progress, E-Belks had muscled his way into the starting line-up.
The Russians provided little in the way of threat, but the Algerian Wardrobe held onto his starting berth for the following match against Germany, who, for the uninitiated, went on to win the thing. The Teutonic surge rained down on Belkalem and his defensive partner Rafik Halliche, but he merely chuckled and threw himself in the way of everything, even deigning to turn on the style once or twice.
The rear-guard action kept the Germans at bay for 92 minutes, forcing Watford fans to rub their eyes and, clearly, weary talent scouts across the world to stroke their by this point two-week old beard growth.
The question must of course be asked, if David Luiz – a man deemed to be worth some fifty million smackers by the guy who writes cheques for PSG – could ship seven goals to this German outfit, then have we been massively short-changed here?
It’s fair to say that Belkalem never quite got to grips with the Championship. I guess we’ll never find out now if that was a slow start or something more. I’m no more qualified to say whether he’ll fare better in Turkey than I was to judge him on his form for Kabylie in the Algerian Ligue 1.
The small sample of the World Cup suggests that he is much more comfortable with a full back beside him than trying to track runs as the wide part of a central three. It may sound like I’m degrading his more nuanced abilities as a defender, but Belk’s big skill is just that – he’s bloody big. In the middle he can concentrate on making balls bounce off him rather than run around trying to intercept play.
If used in this way, perhaps he can blossom in the Turkish Super Lig. If the name of his new coach at Trabzonspor – Vahid Halilhodzic – sounds familiar, it’s because until a few weeks ago he was in charge of the most successful Algerian side in World Cup history; so he will be well aware of his new charge’s strengths and weaknesses.
Watford fans never quite gave him a chance to find his feet, at least now he’s in a place where supporters are famously patient and forgiving.
Once again, it must be said that the Pozzos have played a blinder: signing him on a permanent deal on the off chance that he boosted his price tag in Brazil. As it seems that the club will also be receiving a pretty hefty windfall for Troy Deeney sometime soon – a guy that many assumed would be given the boot a few months into the Italian regime – it’s been a great summer for the Pozzo model, at a time where most of the money men of English football have completely lost their heads.