This ‘Deeney Day’ found the skipper in perhaps his most precarious position since he wrote himself into Watford folklore by kicking the ball very hard at a time when everyone else’s legs had turned to jelly.
It’s now been four years since that moment, a period in which Troy has been made the highest paid player in the history of the club by a factor of about three, has become only the fifth player ever to score 100 goals for the club and has grafted his way to the title of Mr Watford.
But of late there has been some suggestions Deeney’s time at the club may be coming to its natural end. Has the strain of being the side’s talisman worn on the striker? Has be become too big for his boots, taking a stock in the club’s structure even higher than the Head Coach? If so, is that acceptable?
There’s a fine line between a big character driving the changing room and taking it over. Being the only English player, and indeed member of staff, doesn’t help, as it means that the media latches onto him as a mouthpiece for the club as a whole. Is the backlash (of sorts) against him down to his talk not backing up his performances, or due to the inertia of him being the only voice we ever hear, and him subsequently copping the blame for a dull, dull season?
The man has a gigantic ego, which is no great problem – most of the best players do. He’s very concerned with his personal brand. Again, not itself an issue. But the fact that he has been built up as a ‘straight talker’ means that he has to play up to the label: openly criticising teammates, saying that they haven’t got the required guts, smirking when asked about his relationship with Mazzarri. When your squad is made up of top-level players, and you yourself are not performing particularly well, but get a free-ride from fans and media because you’re the most accessible, that’s not going to fly.
So the question arises: would Deeney leaving enable a more organic squad to grow, or would it set off an even greater schism between players and fans, one bolstered by recruitment of ordinary players with seemingly impressive pedigrees, who see the club as a halfway house on the way back to superstardom promised as a youngster, rather than a destination.
Troy hasn’t been at it this season, and had as much influence on the game at Everton as Steve Beleck or Javier Acuna, but drop him and suddenly it’s a power play by the coach, a sign that nobody’s untouchable. Seeing as we appear to have aspirations to be an upper midtable side, benching a striker – a really expensive striker – who has scored 10 goals this season (three of them penalties), should not be big news.
But is that his fault? Troy has never been able to play up front on his own. Even when playing against the Scunthorpes and Yeovils he was pants at it, so expecting him to be able to do it when faced with centre backs of the highest calibre is surely foolish.
And even taking that into account, are we really seeing diminishing returns from him?
I think that one thing that has got lost in the apotheosis of Troy Deeney in the past two years is that he has never before been the top striker at the club.
True, he may have been the best and the most influential, but he’s never really been ‘The Guy’. When he truly became a first team player, once Danny Graham had gone onto greater things, he was the support act to Marvin Sordell – finishing as top scorer (helped by Marv’s January transfer), but was never considered the main threat. Once the new management came in it was Vydra that lead the line, supported by a revolving cast of Deeney, Nando Forestieri and Alex Geijo. Vydra’s return and Odion Ighalo’s arrival in 2014 saw a three-headed beast take the Championship by storm, with Ighalo taking his form as an unstoppable stumbly gazelle into the Premier League.
The only season, therefore, that Troy has been truly relied upon to be our attack was the Zola/Sannino season in 2013/14, when, despite getting 25 goals, the team itself was disjointed and finished 13th as a direct result of the side missing the supplementary striker that all of those other great seasons had.
So it is absurd that once we reached the Premier land of milk and honey, and Ighalo fell off a cliff in December, that the club has made no attempt to support Deeney, instead putting all of its expectations and the burden of goals on his ever-widening shoulders in a role that he is simply not comfortable in.
Instead, we have recruited wide man upon wide man, all of whom operate – with varying levels of ability and success – miles away from the lone man in the middle. When we do play two men up front, it’s either a square peg or the Deeney-esque figure of Stefano Okaka taking up the round hole next to him.
There’s nothing wrong with Okaka, and against Everton he was head and shoulders above Deeney in every conceivable aspect, but he is the same player. Imagine a more consistent and resolute version of Matej Vydra playing up there as the main striker, with Troy peeling off, distracting defenders and forcing defences to take up two lines. Think how some speed up front would put defences on the back foot, and allow the likes of Amrabat or Janmaat to get further up the pitch, or Capoue to drift into a bit of space outside the area.
Imagine Troy having a player near him and one of his flicks actually coming off.
There are problems with Troy Deeney. He’s not as fit as he used to be, and doesn’t chase or harry with the same brutal force that he once did. (This is, I’m sure, down to his much-Instagrammed summer training with his boxing pals, building the wrong kind of bulk whilst publicising the huge amounts of work being put in). And he’s got a bit mouthy, crossing over from lovable banter and relatable frustrations to inflammatory remarks that can only incite frustration and annoyance among his teammates.
But, if the club is going to pay him so much money and hold him up as a paragon (slash last bastion) of a family-based, community club, then they could at least help play to his strengths, and that means building a team with him, and not around him. Troy should be supplementary, the Tonto to our as-yet undiscovered Lone Ranger, a guy that can utilise his strengths, turn them into goals and allow him to feed off any scraps for his own tally.
As I wrote in my last missive (ages ago), whatever happens this summer, with Mazzarri or Deeney, the recruitment needs a rethink as the management seek to turn the club into a unit that can sustain form and character once the sun starts to go in earlier, and – although we’re now fishing and swimming in a different pond – the successful seasons we had in the Championship could provide some sort of template for that.