Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ten years burning down the road

New season, same old favourite player. Of course it’s Lloyd Doyley. Do you even need to ask?

Yesterday’s performance was classic Lloyd. Solid, athletic defending; a few exciting forays up the wing (an increasingly important part of his game in the last couple of years), one of them ending with an exquisite cross to the far post that Craig Forsyth almost converted; and, yes, a couple of embarrassing slip-ups, though they didn’t do any harm.

Even though Lloyd seems to have been around forever, it still seems amazing that this is his testimonial season, celebrating 10 years as a professional. I think it’s because I associate testimonials with players who are close to retiring, whereas Lloyd could be around for a fair few years yet. He’s still only 28, after all.

While waiting for his second goal, I’ll be spending this season watching his progress up the Watford all-time appearance list. With 336 to his name, he’s now level with Fred Gregory in 15th place. He should overtake Skilly Williams, Frank Smith and Stewart Scullion in the next few weeks, but then it’s a long haul to Charlie Williams in 11th place, with 380. After that, who knows?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The rule of five

It was good to see two of Watford’s new signings scoring on Saturday. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll turn out to be successful at Vicarage Road (I still remember Johann Gudmundsson scoring twice on his debut – the very definition of a false dawn), but it’s a start.

I have a theory, honed over 40 years of watching football, that the fate of every batch of new signings will cover the whole gamut from success to failure. More precisely, out of every five signings, you can reasonably expect to get one of each of the following:

McLenaghan – dear old Albert stands as the exemplar of the player who is signed and then disappears, rarely (if ever) to be seen again. We’ve had plenty of these over the years, visible only to the keen-eyed, or those who attend reserve matches. Richard Flash springs to mind, mainly because his name promised so much. Then there’s Sietes, Andy Ferrell, Adrian Bakalli… You can’t help wondering what happens: does the manager genuinely expect them to make an impact, only to be gravely disappointed? Or are they just the result of a cheap punt that doesn’t work out?

Mayo – one step up from the McLenaghan is the player who does at least get a run in the first team, only to be discarded again and vanish from view. Like Paul Mayo, who played 27 games at left back before Ray Lewington decided he wasn’t worth playing just for his long throw. A variation on the Mayo is the player whose Watford career is fatally hampered by injury, like David Barnes or ‘Bunion’ Ben Iroha.

Mackay – our former manager epitomises the middle of the range: the player who is neither a huge success nor a complete failure. Someone who plays a fair number of games, but never becomes an automatic choice, either because of age, injury or competition. Someone who divides the fans, in some cases – a Nordin Wooter, say (though I’ll forgive him anything for that goal against Norwich), or a Danny Webber.

Millen – this is what you want all your signings to be, really: a player who arrives at the club and does exactly the job they were intended to do. Like Keith Millen, who quietly racked up nearly 200 appearances in the centre of defence without ever becoming anyone’s favourite player. Marcus Gayle was another, though in his case he ended up doing a very different job from the one we’d signed him for. They don’t always stay so long, of course. Don Cowie was arguably a Millen, for example.

Mooney – and then, if you’re lucky, one of your five signings will go on to be a club legend. A Tommy Mooney, a John McClelland, a Heidar Helguson – add your own favourites here.

Obviously, this is all highly subjective, but it does provide a yardstick against which to judge a manager’s performance in the transfer market. Let’s look back at the summer of 1997, for example, when GT signed Micah Hyde, Peter Kennedy, Ronny Rosenthal, Jason Lee and Lars Melvang: I make that a Mooney, two Millens, a Mackay and a McLenaghan – an above-average return on our investment.

Now look at Aidy Boothroyd’s first batch of signings, in the summer of 2005: Marlon King, Jordan Stewart, Adam Griffiths, Martin Devaney, Sietes and Ben Gill: a Millen, a Mackay and four McLenaghans. He got better at picking players, obviously, but it wasn’t an encouraging start.

Right now we have six new players. Which will be a Mooney and which a McLenaghan? Only time will tell.