Give Zinckernagel Time: The Berghuis Debacle Needs To Be Learned From

28 appearances. 19 goals. 18 assists. When Philip Zinckernagel signed for Watford upon the opening of the January transfer window, many fans were expecting the Dane to make an instant impact. After over one month in England, Zinckernagel’s only start has come in an FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford. But, despite his lack of inclusion, the Club and supporters should not start thinking about giving up hope on Zinckernagel. A similar situation occurred at Vicarage Road a few seasons ago – a scenario with an outcome the Hornets continue to regret.

Zinckernagel “Adjusting” With Mixed Cameos 

“I think now is the moment to take it step-by-step, so he understands about the Championship. We need to have a good balance,” explained Xisco Munoz at the end of January. “He’s a good player and I think he can give us very good things but we need to take it step-by-step, game-by-game, and I’m sure soon he will be able to give us very good moments.”

Xisco’s claim Zinckernagel still needs to adjust to the Championship is understandable. Some factors need to be considered. Firstly, transferring from the Eliteserien to the physical Championship is a sizeable switch. Furthermore, the pitches in Norway are constructed with artificial grass, whereas pitches in England are made of real grass. So, inevitably, the right-winger (who can also play on the left and in central-attacking positions) had plenty of adjusting to do when arriving. Nonetheless, the adjustment factors still do not seem to fully explain his sparse minutes.

When Ken Sema was sidelined, many supporters expected Zinckernagel to be called upon to start. Instead, in Sema’s absence, Tom Cleverley and Will Hughes, both central-midfielders by trade, were given the nod in the wide position. 

In league play, across eight matches, Zinckernagel has played a total of 159 minutes for the Hornets – fewer than twenty minutes per appearance. 

In Zinckernagel’s cameos, he has had some notable moments – some bad, some good. Frequently when he receives the ball, the 26-year-old tries to pull out neat tricks to work his way past the defender. Sometimes, the gambles occur in dangerous areas and lead to chances for the opposition. Other times, his fancy footwork leads to goal-scoring opportunities for the Hornets. Against Derby County, he registered one key pass, one shot on target, and had only 11 fewer touches than Sema (who played an hour longer than Zinckernagel). In the match against Bristol City, Zinckernagel did well to keep-pace with Sarr to open his goal-scoring account for the Hornets.

His first touches on the ball in each match are usually questionable. But, by the end of the game, he is lively, up-to-pace, and threatening. However, once he has grown into the match, the referee’s final whistle-blow comes. Increased minutes are necessary. With tremendous fixture congestion, there is certainly not an absence of time to be distributed. 

Despite being a bit of a mixed-bag when coming off of the bench, Xisco needs to keep bestowing trust in Zinckernagel. The supporters need to as well. If the Club does not give Zinckernagel adequate chances, they risk repeating the Steven Berghuis debacle.

Watford Continue To Regret Misuse Of Berghuis

Berghuis joined Watford in the summer of 2015 for a fee of around 6 million pounds. 23-years-old at the time, the versatile Dutch right-winger had just come off of a campaign with AZ Alkmaar in which he notched 15 goal contributions in 19 starts. The future for Berghuis looked bright.

In Hertfordshire, Berghuis was not given many chances. In the Premier League, he played in nine matches – all coming off of the bench. He averaged under 25 minutes per appearance, contributing two assists in the process.

Deemed surplus to requirements by the hierarchy, Berghuis was sent on loan to Feyenoord for the 2016/17 campaign. After making 30 league appearances, scoring seven times, and assisting five goals, the Dutch club bought him for a fee nearly identical to the one Watford paid for him.

Watford not giving Berghuis adequate chances to prove himself, despite his promising future and impressive past, quickly came to haunt the Hornets. From the 2017/18 campaign forward, Berghuis has been amongst the Eredivisie’s leaders for both goals and assists. From the start of that campaign to the time of writing, Berghuis has made 108 appearances (in the Eredivisie) for Feyenoord. He tallied 57 goals and 38 assists in that span. That equates to one goal contribution every 97 minutes – a rate only the best of players produce.

Feyenoord’s club-captain is a prime example of a winger Watford did not give proper chances to shine. The Hornets need to learn from their Berghuis mistake by giving Zinckernagel enough time to showcase his talents and see if he is truly capable of competing for a starting spot in the long run. After all, he is Watford’s number seven.

Not enough time was given to Berghuis, and the long-lasting effect of not letting him grow into matches is the sour regret of thinking about “what could have been.” Cameos off of the bench are not enough for integrating and evaluating a player – especially when it comes to an attacker whose recent history shows promise.

Zinckernagel’s Prolific Past Cannot Be Overlooked 

The Championship and Eliteserien are very different leagues. The average team in the Championship is of a considerably higher quality than the average team in the Norwegian first-tier. And, of course, the style of play is different and physicality is more prominent in the English game. 

Still, Zinckernagel’s 37-goal-contribution season cannot be overlooked. Even in a Bodo/Glimt side which comfortably won the league, such an output is impressive. It provides proof Zinckernagel knows how to create chances and knows how to score. If such an output were easy, then the numbers would not be so notable and would not be so uncommon. There is a reason AC Milan coughed up 4.5 million pounds for Zinckernagel’s left-wing teammate Jens Petter Hauge – a player who had an output nearly identical to Zinckernagel’s.

The season before Berghuis joined Watford, he showed tremendous promise. His rate of scoring and assisting was proof. Zinckernagel has an equally, if not even more impressive, case of evidence to support his quality (it is important to mention his final goal for Bodo/Glimt came in December, so his “case of evidence” is as up-to-date/relevant as it gets). 

Zinckernagel might need more time to adjust to the Championship. Perhaps he is already up to his best. Either way, he needs to be given more time to showcase what he can do. There is no doubting his abilities – the numbers show he has what it takes to thrive. Even if Zinckernagel is only given a small handful of starts to prove himself (which he deserves to receive), that is better than what he is currently getting.

If Berghuis were given a couple of starts, who knows the positive contribution he would have made at Vicarage Road. Fortunately, with Zinckernagel, there is time to find out. Still, the currently-sufficient amount of time is slowly but surely ticking away.

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