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The January Hokey Cokey 03/02/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

Another January, another shuffling of the pack – this year as last thirteen players have either arrived or left;  unlike last year, we look considerably sturdier for the experience which, given that Marlon counts amongst the departures, is somewhat remarkable.

That’s not to say that last January should be written off as a complete disaster.  The context was very different for one thing… already looking a bit forlorn at the foot of the table we were without one key player through injury and were in the process of auctioning off another.  Much as we’ve struggled for form of late we’re a much easier sell than we were twelve months ago, and in a position where much less is required to make a visible impact.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult at this early stage to come to any other conclusion than that Aidy has played a bit of a blinder over the transfer window.  We look sturdier and more balanced all round, with competition in almost every position.  I’m slightly concerned about the goalkeeper, and we’re perhaps still short both of variety in the middle of the park, and of leadership on the pitch, but we’re an awful lot further forward than we were.

The first action of January was the much heralded departure of Gavin Mahon to Queens Park Rangers, initially on loan.  In some ways I’m sadder about this than about the loss of King, perhaps since the move was clearly not instigated by a player who, fluctuations in form aside, has been a trooper for the duration of his time at Vicarage Road.

Having debuted under Gianluca Vialli as a lanky midfielder with a distinctive hairdo, he re-emerged after injury as a stocky, bald powerhouse.  At his best he was the driving force behind the team, never better exemplified than at Home Park at the start of the play-off season when his half-time introduction rescued the game and kick-started our season as he stomped all over the midfield.  Never a player who coped particularly well fitness-wise without a pre-season, his dips in form did seem to attract more criticism than they merited.  The decision to let him leave certainly demonstrated Boothroyd’s characteristic boldness – and he’d probably argue that he was doing the player a favour by being up front with him.  For a while, though, the decision looked horribly premature as the side struggled for direction in Mahon’s absence.  It may still prove so.

The first arrival, formally, was Lionel Ainsworth who saw his move from Hereford made permanent for the now traditional undisclosed fee (which, nonetheless, is rumoured to have broken the Bulls’ transfer record of £200,000 for Darren Peacock in 1990).  A swift turnaround for a player who was released by Derby County in the summer and Boothroyd has put the pressure on a bit with early comparisons to Aaron Lennon, but Ainsworth looks a lot of fun and can probably claim an influence in Tommy Smith’s remarkable recent form.

The next action of the window saw Jordan Parkes on the way to Brentford on loan, which in itself heralded the arrival of a new left back as competition for Jordan Stewart.  Parkes looks like he might be a player;  some first team experience should help him curb his occasional attacking excesses.

The following day saw further departures.  Moses Ashikodi got another chance to kick-start his career with a loan at Swindon Town whilst Anthony McNamee, having finally run out of such chances at Vicarage Road, also joined the Robins for a nominal fee.  There will no doubt still be people claiming that McNamee wasn’t given enough of a run, was underutilised and undervalued.  Ultimately, three successive and very different Watford managers thought differently.  It’s nearly six years since he made his debut – of the current squad only Lloyd Doyley and Tommy Smith debuted earlier – and in that time for all his occasionally eye-catching wing play McNamee neither created enough goals nor threatened to establish himself in the team.  He’s 24 now, and this move was long overdue – for his own benefit as much as ours.  Of all the departures, his might be the most interesting career to monitor.  I know what my money’s on, but I hope he proves me wrong.

The same day saw Calum Davenport arrive on loan from West Ham United, ostensibly to cover Danny Shittu’s enforced absence but also to provide an option in the longer term.  A very decent option he looked too, for all of forty minutes until fate and an unfortunate collision intervened.

Alex Campana, who looked like a player making decent progress in the League Cup earlier in the season, departed for Wealdstone on loan – a slight concern that at 19, Campana couldn’t secure a loan above the Ryman Premier; we shall see. 

The final week of January began with the first “new” permanent recruit of the transfer window, Mat Sadler arriving from Birmingham for £750,000.  This was obviously a hole that needed filling, with Jordan Stewart badly in need of serious competition for his position and more than a little uncertainty surrounding his long-term future.  On evidence thus far, Sadler looks like quite a different left back to Stewart – unflashy, solid and defensively reliable… and he takes a decent corner too, which is something we’ve been crying out for.  The only concern perhaps is why his parents chose to spell his name with a single “t”…

Four days later, the much trumpeted arrival of Collins John, Marlon’s heir apparent on a loan from Fulham until the end of the season with a view to a permanent transfer.  John’s signing echoes that of King in many ways… undoubted ability that, for whatever reason, hasn’t been fully exploited with more than a suggestion of excessive self-confidence.  If Boothroyd gets inside John’s head to the extent he did Marlon’s Collins John will be the signing of the season not just at Watford but in the second division as a whole.  If not… whilst a loan with an option isn’t a great risk, the impact on our chances of promotion this season might be more severe.  On the same day Scott Loach, who had already had one loan spell at Morecambe aborted earlier in the window as the Shrimpers secured a longer-term option, continued to demonstrate that he’s a man in demand by securing further first-team experience at Bradford City.

And whilst all of this was going on, of course, the painfully protracted departure of the iconic Marlon King, which had been inevitable whatever the truth of his failed medical from the moment we accepted an offer from Fulham, drew closer.  The best stab at the subsequent passage of events seems to be that Fulham found something with his medical and tried to play hardball by drastically reducing their up-front payment, with a larger fee dependent on appearances.  I know that a lot of tapping up goes on and that it’s unrealistic to expect no contact to have been made with King before the event;  I know too that the point of medicals is to show up problems if they exist.  But I can’t have been the only one grinning when Wigan came in with an offer to trump Fulham’s now irrelevant negotiating position – albeit guaranteeing us considerably less than the £5million initially suggested. 

It’s easy to revise history in the light of events, but a big part of me isn’t overly distraught that King has gone.  Whether his injury flares up or not, there’s little doubt that whilst he retains his strength, intelligence, skill and aggression he lost the fabled yard of pace during his spell out, and that leaves him a very good striker rather than the irrepressible talisman that we all want him still to be.  Having said which, “are you watching Marlon King” rather ignores both his immense contribution to the club during his time here, and the necessity of an individual with a criminal record (and, potentially, a lingering injury problem) to maximise his earnings before he retires.  With £1m reportedly riding on Wigan staying up that’s something we should all be hoping for, particularly if it condemns Fulham in the process.

The transfer window closed with two impressive-looking signings on deadline day.  Leigh Bromby joined the Hornets for an initial £600,000 less than twenty-four hours after facing us at Bramall Lane as a decent looking replacement for our original candidate for this role.  I must confess that my mental image of Bromby was dominated by his ridiculously long throw and being absolutely skinned by Marlon at Bramall Lane two years ago; whilst his debut went some way to allay concerns provoked by the latter, his throw in is a thing of wonder… Doris and Danny will have lots of fun with that, one suspects.  It’s worth noting also that someone who made the move from Hillsbrough to Bramall Lane isn’t short of balls.

Finally, ticking any number of boxes, John Eustace arrived for a cheap-looking £250,000 from Stoke City.  The Potters may feel they’ve traded up in replacing him with the sought-after Glenn Whelan from Wednesday, but we’ve badly lacked the experience and leadership that 28 year-old Eustace provides.  The contrast between yesterday’s performance and that a week previously was down to him more than to any other individual, however strong individual performances were elsewhere.

It may well be that a year ago I’d have been eulogising the potential of Cavalli, Avinel, Hoskins, Rinaldi (Ha!)… I dunno.  All you can do is call it as you see it.  On yesterday’s evidence, it looks pretty good…



1. Mark - 03/02/2008

The new signings have already made more of an impression than the ones brought in last January…they actually play and appear suited to this level.

I hope we don’t have to pay Collins John’s wages while he is out with this “ongoing” hamstring problem…

2. Mike S - 03/02/2008

Hmm. Wigan to stay up. My head says you’re right – £1m in the bank, Derby, Fulham and Birmingham to go down instead. Beautiful.

But my heart yearns for nothing but misery for Steve Bruce.

Am I a bad person?

3. Matt Rowson - 03/02/2008

Surely a face like that is misery enough?

4. Drew - 03/02/2008

I think we are also due a further slice of the Bouazza fee if Fulham stay up so perhaps we want Derby, Birmingham and Sunderland to go down? Complicated isn’t it?

5. Wrighty - 03/02/2008

This time last year only Mariappa or Doyley from yesterdays starters would have been in our Premiership team. Makes you think doesn’t it?

6. Dave, Hornets Sweden - 04/02/2008

I can’t help but think that, from all we’ve heard, Marlon did himself absolutely no favours. He was on very good wages with us (plenty to secure a future for his family) and handled the whole thing very clumsily. Admittedly so did both clubs.

Bottom line is that while I was originally devastated he was going, now I couldn’t care less. Talismanic players care about the club and its fans, and it certainly seemed that Watford FC didn’t seem to mean anything to Mr.King. maybe that’s the attitude of today’s game, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

We’ll see what happens when he returns to the Vic in another team’s shirt.

7. m.scholfield - 04/02/2008

After seeing Sadler,Eustace and Bromby all play their part on Saturday my faith in Boothroyd’s dealing in the transfer market is beginning to be restored!
Compare to last January when he bought in Cavalli,Avinel,Hoskins & Williamson etc.

8. GraemeB - 04/02/2008

Some say don’t change a winning team. With that in mind it’s interesting to note that the side which started against Wolves showed no less than NINE changes from the side which sustained our table-topping run before the defeat to WBA. (Poom; Doyley, DeMerit, Shittu, Stewart; Smith, Williamson, Mahon, Johnson; Henderson, King). Of course not all the changes are permanent and some were forced. But how many managers faced with a dip in form have responded by building almost a completely new side in nine weeks? And there’s still Collins John to come!

9. Apperley 'Orn - 04/02/2008

I think, on early evidence, it is fair to say that Aidy has matured as a wheeler and dealer in the transfer market. This January’s movements has definitely given us more balance and depth whilst the amount spent has been minimal by today’s standards.

Of course, we still have Collins John to come in – be interesting to see how he does – and Steve Kabba! It’s like having another new player in the mix. Delighted to see someone go full-throttle when given another chance after so long in the wilderness.

10. Matt - 05/02/2008

It’ll be interesting to see how many of you lot are still claiming Aidy has done well if we get hammered at Ipswich.

I’m not saying he hasn’t of course, just that some people seem very quick to give him the benefit of the doubt after just one game.

11. JohnM - 05/02/2008

My thoughts for what they are worth:
Kabba looked good but to me the improvements by the Duke could be a better long term bet. He seems to have an eye for goal – good free kicks – made Tommy’s first goal, and jumping quite high for a shortish player. Kabba, while very fast and very active still lacks a bit in ball control and making the right decision when on the ball. A Priskin/Kabba clone would be quite a footballer
John Joe I thought had a good game and still seems to be developing nicely. As he is young his form will go up and down so I would like to see Aidy sometimes starting with JJ and sometimes with Al because eventually they could form one hell of a partnership in midfield in the future.
Which brings me to Eustace. Looks solid and is what we currently need but is, if we get their, premiership quality or will he go the way of Stevie Spring.
A friend who’s a blues fan says Stadler is good defensively but not much cope at crosses!!! – but then he is a blues fan.

12. Back from Hammerau - 05/02/2008

Well done Aidy.

It’s early days but, Eustace seems to be nicely filling a Mahon-sized hole. Maybe he should get the armband?

Someone watching the game on Saturday wouldn’t have guessed Sadler and Bromby had one previous appearance between them.

I won’t be joining in the abuse of King. What he’s done for the club hasn’t been entirely erased by the manner of his departure.

Does Steve Kabba Mk 2 count as a new signing?

I won’t worry about the permutations of what the Premiership survival of clubs who’ve bought players from us will do to our coffers, especially if we get promoted and it all becomes irrelevant.

Mind you, it’ll be nice from two perspectives if we get any extra cash from Aston Villa for Ashley Young.

Will Newcastle being relegated affect our finances? “I’d just love it.”

13. Matt Rowson - 05/02/2008

It’s not the benefit of the doubt Matt. We watched the game. You can’t get a sounder test of the effectiveness of changes than the same opposition a week apart. Chalk and cheese.

You’re right, it’s early days as others have pointed out. But it’s not “just one game” either. Boothroyd got a side tipped for relegation promoted two years ago, he’s got something about him. Or had you forgotten?

14. Ian Lay - 06/02/2008

Ipswich will be arguably the toughest game of the season. They have really taken a few teams apart at their place. If their away form was half as good as their home form they would be top of the table.

If we get a point there it will be a good result. A win and that would demonstrate quite nicely how the new players have settled in and how effective they are.

15. Matt Rowson - 06/02/2008

The other side of the coin, Ian, is that if they were as shit at home as away they’d be bottom.

That said, there’s no arguing with your prognosis.

16. Stuart - 07/02/2008

I like articles like this. I miss BSaD 😦

Also my all time favourite Watford players are (in no particular order):

Tommy Mooney
Paul Robinson
Ken Charlery
Nigel Gibbs
maybe Nordin Wooter (for a laugh)
Alex Bonnot (because he was a nice fella)
Lee Nogan

That is all.

17. Tim Rose - 07/02/2008

I guess someone had to say it, but I for one will miss Anthony McNamee. Remembering his early performances at the end of the Vialli era and then his substitute appearance to get us the win in a televised game against Norwich under Lewington, i thought he was going to be genius.

Something somewhere though went horribly wrong and I think it’s between his ears. When he was hot he was scorching and when he wasn’t we might as well have had 10 players. He was like Micah Hyde just even less consistent. I really hope he makes it but I have to go with you Matt I can’t see it happenning. If none of the managers we have had could get him consistent I guess none will. Why he couldn’t do it I guess must just be a mental thing but it’s such a shame because what a talent.

Ipswich will be tough. If we win it I think we’ll get promoted a bold statement I know but it would be an even bigger lift after last weekend. Does anyone know whether Collins John is fit for Saturday?

18. Mick G. - 07/02/2008

Stuart – Which planet are you on?

19. NRC - 08/02/2008

Collins John still ‘a way off’ according to the official website – let’s hope he’s worth the wait. Can’t believe that the thought of Kabba on the wing is still being entertained in the same missive, let’s not get carried away!

20. Stuart - 10/02/2008

Mick G.

I’m on a BSaD planet I think.

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