End of Term Report Part 2 15/05/2014Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5- Essaïd Belkalem
On the face of it, the poster boy for our pretty disastrous recruitment last summer, or something, and beyond dispute that he’s failed to impress in his outings in yellow. A lot of mitigating circumstances though, before dismissing the Algerian altogether. More than any of our cosmopolitan recruits it was immediately evident that communication was an issue… multi-lingual or otherwise, Belkalem was clearly not on the same wavelength as his teammates a lot of the time – the defining image of his time at Watford will have been of him out of position on the wrong side of an escaping opponent lunging in to remedy the situation and earning a yellow card into the bargain. That’s not a facet that sits comfortably with trying to adapt to playing in a back three, let alone to settling into a new country, a new environment. Physically, Belkalem looks a brute… a monstrous, powerful stopper in the Fitz Hall mould, you do rather suspect that we’d have seen better of him in a back four, and given some time to adapt. Instead his involvement was sporadic – none of his seven starts were consecutive – and by the time he had overcome a mid-season ankle injury Tommie Hoban had nudged him back down the queue.
Next Season: Post World-Cup, of course, where he’s as close as we’ll have to a representative, the Algerian’s future is unclear. One can’t imagine that either club or player will be desperate to extend this season’s arrangement, and yet dependent on Granada’s status you wouldn’t rule out a return quite yet. We’ve not seen the best of him.
6- Joel Ekstrand
Here’s a really odd one. One that you didn’t see coming. In the wake of Joel’s hugely impressive opening season at Vicarage Road a year ago we eulogised him, suggesting that “Mentally, a “that bit’s sorted” label was pasted over whichever corner of the defence Joel occupied”. Twelve months on that assessment doesn’t seem to apply… consensus amongst football supporters is rare, but such has emerged with the judgement that Ekstrand really hasn’t had a very happy time of it this term for all that he’s been as much a regular as anyone – only Almunia, Angella and Deeney started more games. Whilst last year he looked confident and unflappable, this season he’s looked far from confident on too many occasions, struggling with his distribution, picking up plenty of needless, often sulky bookings (eleven in total) and looking like part of the problem rather than a trooper swimming against the tide. In fairness he looked a lot happier when fielded in the centre of the three where better able to concentrate on the purely defensive work; you kinda feel you want a physically more dominant figure there in the long term though.
Next Season: Bottom line, it’s not as simple as these imports either working out or not. Joel was splendid in his first year, less than splendid this time; to what extent he has changed and to what extent circumstances have made him less effective is moot. What’s clear is that here’s someone who has demonstrated that he’s capable of being a terrific asset to the team and if he comes back next season with his head in the right place we’ll all be better off for it.
7- Cristian Battocchio
There was a point in January when things were slightly in flux following Beppe’s arrival and Battocchio’s future at the Hornets was cast into doubt with loan moves back to Italy seemingly on the cards. Quite what the motivation for this was was never altogether clear… the likeliest explanation, that the new coach didn’t rate the young Argentine/Italian, was swiftly dispelled when plans for a loan were quickly scotched with the general understanding being that Sannino, in fact, had insisted that he be retained. Battocchio seemed perfectly happy with this development and contributed well for the rest of the season… the main upshot of the episode being that Beppe got an early tick in the “plus” box for both asserting is authority and for good judgement. Cristian is far from the finished article, as reflected by a season that has seen him tagging in and out of the side with Sean Murray, eighteen months his junior. Last year we suggested that he was a good cog in a successful side but too infrequently affects the course of a game that’s getting away from us… that still holds I think, although I’d argue that alongside the trademark relentless energy and Hanna Barbera whirring legs there has been a growing influence, a willingness to take responsibility even if he has nonetheless disappeared into the mire of some of our worst outings along with everyone else. Clearly a popular bloke and very far from the most negative mercenary stereotype that lingers in the back of the mind in considering the Pozzo model – witness his Community award – Cristian has ability, personality and potential. That’ll do us just fine for the moment.
Next Season: More of the same, one hopes, and a growing influence in our midfield.
8 (#1) – Josh McEachran
There’s a wider backstory to Josh McEachran, in which his spell at Watford is little more than a footnote. For several years he’s been tipped as a strong maybe from Chelsea’s youth system, evidence that the huge investment in foreign talent doesn’t prohibit the best English youngsters coming through. Whilst we’re digressing onto the topic, in as much as I care about the national team at all my concern certainly doesn’t extend to justifying pissing around with the lower divisions in its name, much less in doing so whilst using the national team as a veil to thinly conceal the Premier elite’s very selfish priorities. That’s by the by. McEachran, as it turns out, appears to have fallen below the anticipated trajectory… but that doesn’t disprove the viability of emerging English talent either. The fact is – and thank the stars for this, frankly, in this post-EPPP world – that development of youngsters from a starting point of high potential, has never been a given. McEachran looked a potential star at 16 or so but there’s not a straight line between that and a World Cup place at the age of 19 or 20 because kids develop in different ways that are as dependent on mentality and physique as they are on environment.
Actually I don’t think McEachran’s a bad player, and I didn’t think that his loan at Watford was the unmitigated disaster that many perceived it as at the time. Or at least, if he wasn’t what we were looking for he nonetheless did his fetching, carrying, keeping-things-moving job well enough, showing a positive intent that wasn’t always evident around him. What we needed, actually, was a bit more authority and some physical presence, both of which George Thorne proved slightly more capable of providing.
Next Season: Sporadic involvement on loan at Wigan in the second half of the season suggests that the first team Stamford Bridge career once envisaged remains unlikely. Them’s the breaks. But for the fanfare that preceded it, Josh’s career trajectory would have been far less worthy of comment.