Opinion: Who makes your best Watford XI?
A club`s greatest XI is a subject open for debate for all of eternity. With this being my last weekend as Editor at Vital Watford before joining the print journalism business, it seemed like a fun way to bring an end to eight wonderful years with the site.
The only criteria was that these must be players that our columnists have seen play in their lifetime; formations and justification were entirely at the author`s discretion. It certainly made for some interesting selections from our panel. Nick`s XI is first…
Nick Chainey (@NLFG):
It`s never easy putting together a best or favourite XI (or 18)
I`ve been a regular at the Vic for nearly twenty years, and frankly, if you asked me for this team tomorrow, it would probably be different.
I`ve decided to go for our current favourite wing backs as a formation, but if I was going for 4-4-2 it`d probably be a different team entirely.
But here goes any way…..
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster. Whilst Alec Chamberlain`s longevity and consistency would recommend him, Foster`s imperious performances in the Premier League in particular mean I can`t look past the big United loanee. His growth from a young man slightly unsure of himself into an England goalkeeper was ridiculously impressive. Also gains plus points for still looking out for our results.
Centre back (right): Lloyd Doyley. I don`t think it needs much explaining. Yes, he may look ungainly on the ball but I don`t think we`ve had many players in the last 20 years with such a ferocious dedication to defending as an art form. Rarely done for pace, never, ever gives up. A legend.
Centre-back (central): Danny Shittu. Just immense. Not perfect by any means, but I don`t think I`ve ever enjoyed a centre back bringing the ball out of defence as much as big Dan. The regular sight of centre forwards bouncing off of him was a thing of wonder.
Centre-back (left):Marco Cassetti. Just sheer class. Makes the occasional mistake, but is calmness on the ball and reading of the game is an absolute wonder.
Right wing-back: Ikechi Anya. Like Foster, a player who`s grown and grown in a Watford shirt. From looking like little more than a speed merchant to one of the key players in the team, he also has one of the best first touches I`ve ever seen.
Left wing-back: Danny Pudil. The left side of defence isn`t an area we`ve always been blessed with. I`m more than open to arguments about Peter Kennedy, Paul Robinson and Andrew Taylor, but for me, Pudil is the best of the bunch. His almost baffling love of the town also earns him points, here.
Defensive midfield: Richard Johnson. This was a massively tough call between The Captain, John Eustace and our favourite Aussie Richard Johnson. Jonno gets the nod, just, because of his ridiculous ability to hit thunderbastards. His first goal away at Bristol City in our 4-1 win in 1998 is in my top ten all time goals.
Attacking midfield: Almen Abdi. I don`t think this necessarily needs any real explaining. Arguably the single classiest footballer I`ve ever seen in a Watford shirt.
Attacking midfield: Micah Hyde. Classy, and his ability to pick a pass was still evident in his twilight years at Barnet as he controlled the game without leaving the centre of the pitch.
Strikers: Troy Deeney & Danny Graham. The two centre forward spots had a list as long as my arm of people who could play there. Tommy Smith. Tommy Mooney. Matej Vydra. Heidar Helguson. Marlon King. I plumped for Deeney because of his exploits last year, and the way he turned himself round post jail. Danny Graham? Because he was wonderful. His ability to score from absolutely anywhere as his confidence increased was terrific.
Team: Foster; Doyley, Shittu, Cassetti; Anya, Abdi, Johnson, Hyde, Pudil; Deeney & Graham.
Chris Gilbert-Anderson (@Chris_G_):
So, it`s early on Saturday before the Barnsley game and the boss has asked me to give my best Watford FC XI in my lifetime. So here goes...
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster has and always will be one of my favourite goalkeepers and I`m glad I got to see him play here. Despite the mistakes ALL goalkeepers make, this guy just gets on with the job he has to do. I`m not sure I`ve seen anyone play in a Watford FC shirt that has the same reactions as him. If the time was right, I`d love him to come back.
Right-back: For me, there is no question of who goes down in this position first, the name, Lloyd Doyley. There are a few people that will argue with this choice but this guy has taken everything the world of Watford has thrown at him. Whilst not the most comfortable on the ball I still think Doyley is one of the best man to man defenders in the league today.
Centre-back: Jay DeMerit. DeMerit came to Watford as an unknown diamond in the rough. There was a lot of work to be done with this guy but in the end he came through as very composed defender. There was a passion and love for the club that was on show every game.
Centre-back: Next to Jay in the centre is Adrian Mariappa. "Mapps" was a calm and composed defender and had experience that definitely outweighed his age whilst he was here. His organisational skills, communication and calmness would be a welcome addition to any defence.
Left-back: Paul Robinson. Not much I can say really here. No nonsense, hard talking, hard tackling left back.
Midfield: First name on any team sheet, if fit, Almen Abdi. One of the "new boys" who undoubtedly is probably one of the best midfielder s we have ever seen at this club. Has the ability to control a game from the centre and distribute the ball excellently. Has a good eye for goal too.
Next in line is John Eustace. Every team needs a midfield general, this guy makes the cut for me. There were many sides to Eustace, most of them good but sometimes you were slightly worried to see him charging across the field to get to a player, rather than the ball. Organised a team well and was a great motivator.
Few players excited me as much as Ashley Young when they came through the Watford FC ranks. Young possessed everything you wanted out on the wing; skill, pace and confidence. We all knew he was destined for big things.
Forwards: It was hard picking three for the next positions let alone two, so I`m keeping it brief.
Tommy Smith, it is hard to find a reason for this selection other than the fact it is Tommy Smith. I enjoyed watching this guy play every time I saw him, except when playing for the opposition. Smith was one of those players you could rely on to help others out when needed.
Next in is the Icelandic hitman himself, Heidar Helguson. Cross a ball into the box and this guy would have his head on it. Always a joy to watch.
Despite only playing for Watford for one season Matej Vydra takes the final place. What potential this guy has! Coming to Watford as part of the Pozzo influx, Vydra started as he meant to go on. We won`t talk about his drop in form or his head being turned, we`ll talk about his ability to finish and his blistering pace. In his one season here you could probably pick at least three of his goals as goal of the season.
This team quickly turned from being a best XI to a favourite XI that I have seen play. There are others that I have missed out who deserve a mention, the likes of Danny Graham, Jonathan Hogg, Nigel Gibbs and Alec Chamberlain. Those are just a few names.
I realise this team is made up of quite recent players but I guess that is just the way it goes.
Team: Foster; Doyley, DeMerit, Mariappa, Robinson; Eustace, Abdi, Young; Smith; Helguson & Vydra.
In The Wolf`s Mouth (@WFCWolfsmouth):
My six-year-old self was bought his first season ticket for the Division Two championship year in 1997/98 and has held one ever since. The majority of my selection come from somewhere in the middle of the intervening period.
There are players probably deserving of a space who miss out through no fault of their own - earlier sorts like Robert Page and Filippo Galli came at a time when I saw but did not observe. I never warmed to Page`s baldness and could not see the wood of Galli`s excellence for the tree-like figures of Ramon Vega and Patrick Blondeau beside him.
Newer players suffer a similar fate: I`m prone to nostalgia. Or at least I used to be. I don`t think it`s anything particularly AMFy [against modern football-y], but I don`t feel comfortable flooding my side with your Pudils and Vydras when there are perhaps lesser players who hold firmer places in my heart. Anyway…
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster. Although Watford have been blessed a high-standard succession of keepers over the last decade and a half, I don`t think there`s much argument here. The reason we got to an FA Cup semi-final, a huge player in our 2006 promotion and a player an iota away from being a legitimate contender for the England number one spot.
Right back: Lloyd Doyley. Like all managers, Lloyd has worn me down through attrition. Though I tried to think of someone who had delivered a more explosive contribution at right back, there was nobody who could contend with Lloyd`s constant, reliable and understated excellence at the position.
Centre-back: Danny Shittu. If a Watford all-since-1997 XI were to exist, they would be plying their trade in the Championship. Their natural place in the universe. Watford`s Danny Shittu was as dominant a centre back as you will find in the division. Though he was found out by the pace of Premier League strikers; his power, open-mouthed running and pure bloody bigness will be hard to top by any future Watford brick outhouse.
Centre-back: Jay DeMerit. Jay`s fairytale started to unfold when I was an impressionable 14 year old. I wanted to believe. He was by no means a natural centre back, but that made him all the more exciting. His skill was in reacting to, rather than preventing attacks. Last-ditch lunges are so much funner than keen positional sense, and the American could carry them off with aplomb. When he lined up for the USA against England in the 2010 World Cup, I felt real pride, as it felt like Watford`s gift to football folklore.
Left-back: Paul Robinson. I really liked the 'bootering` accounts of Robbo`s school days in CYHSYF. That and his Stuart Pearce lite ability to kick people and shout and seem really great while doing it. To be honest, I`m not sure how good Robbo really was, but I know I was near tears when he was sold. He also has the advantage of not being Paul Mayo or Jermaine Darlington.
Right wing: Will Buckley. I`ll be honest, I couldn`t think of another right winger. But for all the derision that he received for being inconsistent or soft or what have you, Buckley was a swashbuckler that kept you on the edge of your seat. Born two decades too late, he - a bit like Adam Johnson - no longer has a position on the modern football pitch, but if you`re deploying wingers - and by god, my team are - you want Buckley there skinning left backs and putting in the occasional OK cross.
Centre midfield: Almen Abdi. My wary scepticism for the new breed of Watford players is set aside for a player so undeniably awesome as Almen Abdi. He`s just a classy bugger. The effect he has on the team around him becomes all the more obvious when he`s missing. He is the composer that can turn a primary school music class, recorders and all, into the Berlin Philharmonic. He is the Gareth Malone of Watford Football Club.
Centre midfield: Tom Cleverley. There are a few reasons not to have England`s latest villain in the side: he was but a loan, so is taking the position of a more Watford-based party (it would be Micah Hyde, if you were wondering) and is a bit too similar to Abdi in style, but on ability alone he gets in. For such a young player to come into such an ungood side and carry them was extraordinary, and his subsequent elevation into the Manchester United and England side, no matter what has come since, was inevitable.
Left wing: Adam Johnson. Another loanee, but another incontrovertible choice. Johnson was, not that we knew it, the lone driving force keeping us at the top of the Championship for the first half of our post-Premier League season. Unbelievable feet, tremendous directness and beautiful delivery. His Watford career was short but oh so sweet and that his career has stalled and kept him out of the England squad is more down to mismanagement than any lack of ability.
Striker: Gifton Noel-Williams. Though a fresh-faced seven year old may not be able to discern great defensive play or smart work in midfield, he will always revere his first goalscorer. Gifton was he: a graceful but powerful boy tearing his way through faceless opposition. On that fateful night against Sunderland, when he was having one of his finest performances one - which included a goal that bundled strength, composure and artistry into two touches of the football - not only did Watford`s future up front take a huge hit, but so did England`s. Michael Owen and Gifton Noel-Williams in the 2002 World Cup? Unbeatable. At least, to the seven year old me.
Striker: Heidar Helguson. Considering Marlon King`s 20-goal haul in 2005/06 was the club`s first for approximately four centuries, it`s odd that there are so many strikers vying for the final position up top.
King was pure flames that season; Danny Graham was a salt-of-the-earth lad with an unreal eye for goal (as long as it was before Christmas); Tommy Mooney was good, but another one who suffered from my irrational suspicion of bald people.
This one comes down to two people: Heidar and Tamas Priskin. Though the latter is probably the most technically proficient striker we have seen at Watford since my supporting debut, Heidar will, of course, always win the day.
How a player who has never knowingly said a word in public can capture the heart and soul of a fanbase as much as Heidar did is astonishing. His leap, his red-mist, his falling off of hoardings - it would take a dissertation to sum up the guy`s brilliance. His diving header against Leicester, his re-debut after coming back on loan from QPR is in my top three Watford moments of all time. The man is my footballing deity. Sorry Tamas.
Team: Foster; Doyley, Shittu, DeMerit, Robinson; Buckley, Abdi, Cleverley, Johnson; Helguson & Noel-Williams.
Tom Bodell (@TBBodell):
At first I resented Nick for tweeting me early on my last Saturday as Vital Watford Editor with yet more work, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought this could be fun - apart from trying to format everyone`s articles into one uniform, easy-to-read piece, that is.
As you will no doubt have guessed from some of the names included in these XIs - Gifton?! - we`re all under 30, so these teams are really only 1990s on, which, let`s face it, has not been a great period for Watford aside from Graham Taylor`s second stint and a season apiece under Aidy Boothroyd and Gianfranco Zola.
I was a relative latecomer to sport, particularly football, I was much more a rugby man until the age of 13 when I saw the light and became a Vicarage Road regular (on Saturdays, not Sundays) in 2003, so my team reflects that.
It's only recently that we've moved away from 4-4-2, so I've stuck with a sytem which Ray Lewington once described as "easy to coach", rather than going for something a little more "en-vogue".
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster. It`s a matter of personal preference how these XIs were selected, but I`m going for players I actually saw at their pomp for Watford. Obviously Alec Chamberlain is a Watford legend and by no means someone who played badly during the years I saw him play for us, but Big Ben`s impact during those two seasons was outstanding.
From an unconvincing young man to a mainstay of the side and deserved Player of the Season winner, he was superb for us, even if Boothroyd lucked out in signing him...
Right-back: Lloyd Doyley. Another name our panel has agreed on, Doyley has grown and grown from being an inconsistent backup squad member to a modern-day icon of Watford. The number of managers he`s seen off grows and grows, and it`s certainly not any sense of romanticism that his seen him stick around this long, because let`s face it, most of them have discarded him at some point!
Centre-back: Neil Cox. A leader through a particularly difficult period for the club, both on and off of the field. Even if it all ended somewhat acrimoniously under Boothroyd, he was an excellent servant and a very good player to boot. Weighed in with more than his fair share of goals as a centre-half and could take a mean penalty too. You don`t see enough penalty-taking centre-halves these days...
Centre-back: Jay DeMerit. Conventional wisdom says you should have opposites at centre-back; one to attack the ball & one to cover the space in behind. Tough. I`m picking another stopper and someone whose story was so incredible, a film was made of it - do get hold of a copy if you`ve never seen it.
Brave and uncompromising, a real "stick your head in first & ask questions later" kind of defender, which as a Brit, I love.
Left-back: Paul Robinson. Who else? I was lucky enough to catch the last couple of years of Robbo and he would always leave everything out there. As ITWM alludes to, the 'Bootering' tales in CYHSYF were superb and made one feel like they knew Robbo without having ever actually met him.
We might like to pretend we`re not impressed by graft & passion in this country these days, but we still are. That we have never truly replaced Robbo is his lasting legacy.
Right midfield: Adam Johnson. In sticking with a rigid 4-4-2, I`ve created something of a problem for myself down the right-hand side. Allan Nielsen was classy, even during his final season, but Johnson - even though a left-sider during his Watford stint - was just unplayable during his time here.
It seems a shame to pick someone who played less than 15 games for the club in a "Best XI", but he was an absolute joy to watch and it was clear from the outset that he was destined for greater things than Watford or Middlesbrough.
Centre-midfield: John Eustace. Every team needs a John Eustace. Hell, we could still benefit from his presence in the middle of the park now, even if we're looking tighter than we have in a long time - at home at least.
Regardless of an injury-plagued final season at the Vic` Super John will always be a hero to me: how many other players could come back from a loan spell in which they scored against the 'Orns, have their squad number given away, take a pay cut and still be a fans` favourite by the end of the season.
An excellent wearer of head bandages too.
Centre-midfield: Matthew Spring. I couldn`t really tell you a lot about Spring apart from that he could hit a ball extremely well, but as a 14 or 15 year-old, that was exciting in itself. Considering his L**** history, he became very popular very quickly. A debut goal against Burnley was a pretty good start and he got better and better from there. Two goals at home to Crewe Alexandra from approximately 184 yards out were particular highlights and it was genuinely gutting to see him return to the Kennel.
Left midfield: Ashley Young. I`ll always remember Young as the skinny kid whose shirt was far too big for him scoring the decisive third against Millwall in a 3-1 win in autumn of 2003. Nobody could have guessed back then that the very same matchstick-legged winger would go on to Manchester United and England fame. The ability to excite is a hugely important quality in a winger, particularly when they can go through leans spells of assists and goals and although Young was a frequent contributor in both departments, he got bums off seats for fun too.
Striker: Heidar Helguson. Nothing but my top three 'H` moments will suffice in justifying the Iceman`s inclusion. 1. Taking his frustrations out on an innocent advertisement hoarding in front of the Rookery, and trashing it, (possibly against Rotherham United?) The sort of challenge that would land a player in hot water if against a fellow pro`, it was the subject of much amusement then and now. 2. Somehow heading past Jamie Ashdown in the Portsmouth goal during our League Cup run of 2004/05, despite picture evidence later suggesting that Ashdown had 90% of Helguson`s face in his palms as the diminutive forward attacked the ball. 3. That second coming against Leicester City from two superb Lee Hodson crosses - glorious.
Striker: Danny Graham. Another player whose Watford career transformed following an inauspicious start, Graham went from a striker whose season ended in December to the Championship`s top-scorer and one of the more sought-after Hornets striker in recent years - and there have been a few - with his 27 goals in the 2010/11 season. A workaholic forward who could score almost every kind of goal, it genuinely upsets me to see his name used as a by-word for a terrible striker after having such an excellent time of it in WD18.
What would be the best XI of Watford players you`ve ever seen? Let us know by commenting below!