It’s been a strange few years for Watford. The brink of administration. An owner whose brief reign could be described as colourful. The brink of administration, again. To finally cap it all off, the arrival of an Italian footballing family, a footballing legend & a boatload of players.
The player who seemed least likely to profit from that arrival wasn’t actually at the club when the takeover went through. He was in an open jail, wondering what the hell had happened to his career.
Rewind a couple of years, and Troy Deeney was recruited by Malky Mackay to offer a bit of competition to his first choice striking duo of Marvin Sordell & Danny Graham. Deeney arrived on the back of a reasonable season for Walsall which had seen him score 14 goals & win The Saddlers' player of the season award.
Initial impressions of the big Brummie amongst Watford supporters was mixed. Mainly playing on the right wing, his performances offered plenty of hustle and bustle but little in the way of goals. That he was playing on the right wing was mainly down to the form of Graham and Sordell who spent much of the season scoring goals left, right and centre, and giving Mackay no reason to change things.
The departure of Graham at the end of the 2010 - 2011 season offered an opening for Deeney up front with Sordell. Unlike Sordell’s partnership with Graham, in the more defensively-oriented team of Sean Dyche (who’d replaced the Cardiff bound Mackay), Deeney & Sordell never really clicked. Whilst the team briefly flirted with relegation early on in the season, by deadline day in January some breathing space had been gained, mainly through the inspired loan signing of Michael Kightly. On a day of (relatively speaking) high drama for the club, Sordell (to the surprise of many) disappeared off to Bolton. That night, Joe Garner scored the winner against Millwall; ultimately, though, it was Deeney who was the big winner of the transfer.
For the final three months of the season, a different player emerged. Often partnered by Chris Iwelumo, his confidence increased to the point that he was willing (and able) to score a goal of minor genius against Ipswich ending up with goal of the season, all on the back of his own willingness to chase down every ball.
Deeney ended the season with 11 goals, 8 of them scored since Sordell’s departure. He was undoubtedly the club’s number 9. He also ended the season with a court case looming; a regular on the clubbing scene in his home city of Birmingham, Deeney was involved in a scuffle which ended with himself & 3 others (including his brother) being charged with affray. Initially Deeney had also been charged with assaulting a police officer, which was dropped. Nonetheless, the scuffle had left a student with a broken jaw & Deeney’s career in the balance. When the judgement came in June 2011, the striker was given 10 months, having pleaded guilty.
The arrival of Gianfranco Zola and the Pozzo family heaped further questions on the big striker’s future - even amongst Watford supporters there was no consensus on whether or not fans wanted to see him wearing the yellow shirt again. The club kept its options open, meeting Deeney’s representatives and waiting for reports regarding his behaviour and the length of time he was likely to serve.
As the new season opened with a 3-2 win at Crystal Palace, Deeney was listening from his cell. As soon as it became clear he was likely to be released early, the club announced its intention to retain him. The expectation was that Deeney, lacking a pre-season and any match fitness would be unlikely to appear straight away.
Following a friendly, organised to gauge his fitness, he was chucked straight into the fold. His first appearance as a substitute at home to Bristol City saw him hitting the post in the 88th minute. His first start, a week later at Huddersfield, showed what the stuttering Hornets had been lacking. His first goal of the season was an injury time penalty, smashed past Alex Smithies. Initially partnering Fernando Forestieri, his power a counterpoint to the little Argentine’s guile, Deeney made himself undroppable. Alongside Matej Vydra, as Deeney arrived, so did the Hornets. Before his first start against Huddersfield, the new look Hornets had won 2 of their first 7. Afterwards, 20 of the 39 remaining league games were won. The demolition of Brighton at the Amex finally made the rest of the country sit up and take note. All of a sudden, Deeney had become much, much more than a target man. For all the brickbats thrown at the Hornets last season, little was made of the quality of the coaching the players received. The Czech got the headlines, but the supporters knew who was the key; Deeney made the team play - holding the ball up, monstering centre backs and when it really mattered hitting the back of the net.
A season which had seen him start in jail saw Deeney ending it as the talisman. For all the foreign quality, it was some English steel which saw the Hornets into the play off final. In some ways, that Deeney reserved two of his poorest performances for two of the biggest games (Leeds on the last day, which saw him sent off, and an anonymous performance at Wembley) didn’t really matter to most Hornets supporters.
His performance against Leicester had seen him enter the history books much like another Watford number 9 who he’d played alongside at Walsall, one Tommy Mooney - a hero to most Watford supporters of a certain age and another player who was known as much for his hard work as his quality.
What’s also not appreciated outside of the confines of Watford is that actually, he’s a pretty funny character. His twitter (@t_deeney) is used to provide his mockery of some of the fashion crimes that take place in the Watford dressing room (Fernando Forestieri is a favourite target). Over the summer just gone, it was used as a way to let Watford supporters know that the (in)famous loanees were coming back (it’s not been acknowledged by the club, but the use of twitter by certain key players has been superb in keeping supporters up to date without necessarily confirming anything officially) and what the players were up to in Italy. Amusingly, it was also used to call out a supporter who’d left the team hotel with a bill of €200 owing.
That he’s started the new season on fire isn’t a surprise to us who know. And what makes a refreshing change from previous years is knowing that a player of this quality isn’t going to be sold for buttons. Unlike Danny Graham, Heidar Helgusson and Marvin Sordell, when Troy goes it won’t be to keep the club afloat. It’ll be because we get the offer a player of his quality deserves.