The past decade has been a roller coaster ride for Watford. At times, the ride was one which induced fear and anxiety. Other times, it was one which created feelings of excitement and jubilation. Hundreds of players have come through the revolving transfer door at Vicarage Road in the last 10 years, but the “best signing” of all those players is a debate which will likely never have a uniform consensus.
When considering Watford’s best signing, the term “best,” as it relates to football, needs to be defined. If the definition is in reference to raw talent and trickery, players such as Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu come to mind. Those players also had arguably the best career résumé upon their arrival in Hertfordshire in comparison to any other signings Watford have made. Pereyra was Paul Pogba’s direct understudy at Juventus and even appeared in a Champions League Final, and Deulofeu was a La Masia graduate who enjoyed successful spells with Everton and AC Milan.
If “best” is in reference to the profitability of a player, players such as Richarlison are considered. Watford bought him for roughly 11 million pounds, and then sold him to Everton a year later for an estimated 24 million pound profit. If the size of the transfer fee is the benchmark for being the best signing, then Ismaïla Sarr (#1) and Andre Gray (#2) would be at the top of the list.
When the criteria for determining the best signing are based upon finances and résumé, then inevitably, only players post-promotion in 2015 will be on the list. Other notable players pivotal to Watford’s top triumphs of the Hornets’ Premier League run are midfielders Will Hughes, Abdoulaye Doucouré, and Étienne Capoue – the latter arguably the best player in terms of consistency and reliability over the course of the club’s five seasons in the top flight.
The five years of the past decade which did not include a spot in the Premier League cannot be disregarded. It is in this timeframe that Watford’s best signing of the past decade occurred. Honorable mentions signed before promotion are Craig Cathcart and Odion Ighalo.
In football, when considering the “best signing,” it’s critical to consider the player’s cost to the club and his impact during his time there. When “2010-2020 Watford” is considered, the first player that comes to mind is Troy Deeney. So, wouldn’t he be the best signing? Unfortunately, Deeney signed for Watford in August of 2010, just outside the ten year window being evaluated. So, Deeney is eliminated from contention. Had he been signed 3 months later, he would be the best signing of the period.
The best signing for Watford of the past decade is someone who the club gambled on. He might have only played for Watford in the swan song of his career, but his retirement kept getting postponed by his success with the Hornets. He cost Watford nothing, and he gave the club his everything. And it showed.
Watford’s Best Signing Of The Past Decade:
Heurelho Gomes joined Watford in the summer of 2014 from Tottenham Hotspur. He had gradually fallen out of favor at White Hart Lane after joining from PSV Eindhoven in 2008. Former Arsenal shot-stopper Manuel Almunia decided to retire after two rather successful years with Watford in the Championship, leaving Gomes with big gloves to fill.
And fill those gloves he did. In his first season with Watford, he was able to help the club concede 14 fewer goals than the Hornets did the season prior. Most importantly, he was the shot-stopper that helped lead Watford to promotion. However, his most impressive season was yet to come: the club’s first campaign back in the Premier League.
In Watford’s inaugural season back in the top flight, nearly everyone predicted that Watford would be heading straight back down to the second tier. Gomes is one of the key players that ensured the predictions were far from accurate. In that first season back, Heurelho Gomes played in all 38 matches, and amassed a league-best 122 saves in the process. He also kept 11 clean sheets, and helped Watford have the second best defensive record amongst teams outside of the top six.
Under new manager Walter Mazzarri, the following season was slightly less successful in terms of maintaining a respectable defensive record. Still, Gomes’ efforts allowed Watford to avoid a serious relegation threat (as much as one can say that about a club finishing 17th). Unfortunately for Gomes, he saw his starting spot slowly usurped by Orestis Karnezis in the 2017/18 season, though Gomes, 37-years-old by the end of the campaign, did start 24 league matches. Ben Foster’s arrival at the start of the 2018/19 season signaled an end to Gomes’ time as a starter for Watford, but he stuck around for the next two seasons as a reliable second choice, and helped Watford reach an FA Cup Final.
When a team which has the odds stacked against them knows it has a more than reliable keeper behind them, the whole squad is able to play better. From being a pivotal part of Watford’s 2014/15 promotion campaign to being one of the best keepers in the world’s best league, Heurelho Gomes is Watford’s best signing of the decade. It cost nothing, and Watford got everything they wished for. And then some.