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Troy Deeney – From Criminal To Captain

It has been more than four years since Troy Deeney was convicted of assault after participating in a violent clash outside the Bliss Bar in Birmingham.

Since the brawl Deeney has seen himself become a Watford legend and in the summer Leicester City made a bid of £30 million for him, however, life hasn’t always been so glamorous for the Watford skipper.

Deeney did not grow up in the most ideal of circumstances, and hailing from a rough area in Birmingham, growing up was tough. He was expelled from his school at the age of 14, and eventually left secondary school education aged 16 with no GCSE’s whatsoever. He went and became a bricklayer on a wage that gave him £120 a week.

After an unsuccessful trial at Aston Villa, he was scouted by Walsall after scoring seven goals for local side Chelmsley Town, ‘whilst drunk’.

He then signed for The Saddlers in 2006. making 123 appearances and scoring 27 goals.

Deeney was attracting interest, and in 2010, Watford had an offer accepted for £500k rising to £650k for the Englishman. After handing in a transfer request, he was Watford bound making his debut as a sub against Norwich City in a 3-2 win at Carrow Road.

The following transfer window saw interest from Coventry City, and the player has revealed that he was close to joining the Sky Blues.

With Coventry City expecting striker Lukas Jutkiewicz to join Middlesbrough, they turned their heads and sounded out Watford regarding a move for their striker.

“That wasn’t a link that was true,” Deeney later explained. “It was after my first year here when I’d been playing on the right.

“Let’s put it this way, if Lukas Jutkiewicz had moved an hour earlier then I wouldn’t be sitting here speaking to you guys now,” he replied.

“But it all turned out alright for both of us in the end.”

After proving his loyalty, Sean Dyche moved Deeney to the striker position playing a target man role where he gathered a strong partnership with Marvin Sordell.

He ended the season with twelve goals and won goal of the season for his sublime chip against Ipswich Town. However, it wasn’t his goals tally that was making headlines.

Paul Anthony Burke – Deeney’s father – had developed terminal cancer and his son was unable to cope.

“He was old school,” said Deeney. “He didn’t like hospitals, didn’t like pills, didn’t like doctors. It was only when he started getting short of breath while he was walking that he decided he had to do something about it.”

The next day, Deeney was out in Birmingham, his hometown. He was drunk, and by the end of the night he ended up in some trouble on the streets. There was a brawl, and someone alerted him that his brother, Ellis, was in the middle of it.

“In a split second, I forgot who I was and what I was,” he says. “I just went back in and steam-rollered anything and anyone who was in the way.

“I could just see a commotion and I thought, ‘right, until I find my brother, someone’s in the way’. The only people I didn’t hit were people I knew. Everyone else was a target.”

The next day, the police showed him CCTV footage of him stamping on a student’s head. “I couldn’t watch the footage,” he said.

“That is my biggest regret. I hit the guy and he went down and as I have turned round to start fighting again, I felt like a tug on my leg.

“If you know, in fighting, if someone’s grabbing at you, there’s a chance he’s got a weapon. You don’t know what he’s got. I just put him out.

“That’s the only part I don’t like talking about. That could have gone so far left. The guy could have died because I am a powerful guy. I didn’t think about my actions.”

However, after his prison sentence, Deeney was a changed player – a changed man.

He has really matured and found a new hunger that he still has today. It is a hunger inside him that motivates the whole squad and shows the rest of the squad what Watford are about.

When the Pozzo family took over in 2012-2013, there were several signings from abroad, mainly from feeder clubs Granada and Udinese – this put Deeney’s spot in doubt.

He was trusted by manager Gianfranco Zola, and made his first appearance for Watford, after his release from prison against Bristol City at Vicarage Road on 22 September 2012.

He scored 20 goals in all competitions that season, with one goal standing out than the rest. A goal that will go down as Watford’s most iconic goal ever.

It was the 12th May, playoff semi-final second leg between Watford and Leicester City. The midlands club had a 1-0 advantage going into the game thanks to a David Nugent header.

Thanks to a brace from Matej Vydra and another header from Nugent, the aggregate score was tied at 2-2, extra time beckoned.

After Leicester were awarded a dubious penalty for a Marco Cassetti foul on Anthony Knockaert in injury-time, it was Knockaert himself who stepped up to take it.

The Frenchman missed the initial penalty, and then his rebound was also saved until the man guilty of conceding the penalty, Cassetti, relieved pressure and cleared the ball, but the game did not stop there.

Ikechi Anya controlled the ball from the clearance, played it forward to winger Fernando Forestieri, he drove to the by-line and crossed it to the back post where Jonathan Hogg awaited. Hogg nodded the ball down to the man himself — Troy Deeney — who rifled it home from twelve yards and sent Vicarage Road into a state of pandemonium.

From that day on, Deeney established himself as a club hero, but not a legend – one thing stood in the way; promotion.

Promotion would have to wait another year, though, as due to players leaving, poor signings and injuries – it all fell apart for Zola’s men. Finishing 13th, when promotion was the target, was enough to see the Italian sacked.

For Deeney however, it wasn’t all bad. He scored a hat-trick as Watford thrashed Bournemouth 6–1 at Vicarage Road. In doing so, he became the first Hornets player to score a hat-trick in a match since Michael Chopra in 2003.

It was also Deeney’s first career hat-trick. Not only that, he became the first Watford player since former Watfrod star and England international Luther Blissett to score 20 or more goals in consecutive seasons in all competitions. Deeney deservedly won player of the season, but as far as Watford are concerned it was a season to forget.

The pressure was on for the club. Promotion was a must in the 2014-2015 season and the spotlight was on Deeney as Watford’s new captain.

Despite four managers being in charge throughout the season, he led Watford to promotion to the elite of the Premier League as they finished in second place with 89 points.

During the 2014-2015 campaign, Deeney became the first player in Watford history to score 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons. But now he needed to make sure he was ready for the step up into the top flight of English football.

It didn’t start well for the skipper, as while Ighalo was on fire, Deeney was struggling to bag his first Premier League goal. Questions were being asked of him, and every week it was the same old ‘will it be today?’

In fact, it took until October 24th, when Deeney got the opener in a crucial 2-0 win against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.

It was arguably Watford’s best season for years, and Deeney was a key member in Watford’s survival as The Hornets finished 13th while also reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Deeney bagged himself 15 goals in all competitions, including 13 goals in the league and a goal at Wembley.

Watford currently sit fourteenth in the league, but a very bad run of form has seen them slip down the table, and performances haven’t shown any sign of improvement.

On Boxing Day of 2016, Deeney bagged himself his 100th goal for Watford against Crystal Palace. However, that goal was long overdue and his last two performances since the goal have been poor.

With just four goals to his name this season, a few questions will and have been asked of him, but he is determined to end the season strongly. One thing is a for certain – relegation is not an option.

Alex Grimaldo: Benfica’s La Masia Left Back

There are few football academies that can hold a torch to Barcelona’s La Masia in terms not only of the quantity of players produced, but also the quality of those players.

That is not to say that every player produced at the famous academy will necessarily become part of the first team setup at Barcelona.

Instead many graduates have found their way to leagues around the world where their footballing education leaves them in good stead when it comes to carving out a career within football.

One of the most impressive recent graduates is currently plying his trade with Benfica in the Portuguese top flight and his performances have led to covetous glances being cast in his direction by some of Europes biggest sides.

That player is left back Alex Grimaldo.

There was surprise in some quarters when Barcelona allowed the young full back to leave. There was a feeling around the club that Grimaldo was one of the most talented youngsters that the club had produced in recent years, and this belief coupled with the lack of conviction felt towards current left back Jordi Alba meant that many saw Grimaldo as the answer to something of a problem position.

Instead Grimaldo was allowed to cross the border into Portugal, joining Benfica for less than £2M.

Benfica are well known as a hothouse for young talented players, both developed in house and bought in to be sold on at a later date.

So far the young Spaniard has exceeded all expectations at the club and he has quickly become an indispensable part of the first team setup.

Perhaps best known as an attacking threat down the left hand side of the pitch Grimaldo is extremely quick and tactically aware enough to use his pace to cause maximum damage to the opposition.

He is comfortable either moving through the thirds in the wide area of coming in to more narrow positions to link the play centrally.

Capable of accurately crossing the ball as well as playing more intricate passes in the central areas, Grimaldo is also effective in the final third as a provider of goal scoring chances.

In terms of actually capitalising on some of the positions that he finds himself in beyond the opposition defensive line, he needs some development to improve composure and finishing.

Supporting Runs

As I mentioned above one of the overall strengths of Grimaldo’s game is his capacity to support the attacking movement from the wide areas.

He can use his pace to stretch the opposition defence by holding the width on the touchline, or he can move in to more narrow positions to link in with the central midfielders and strikers, should the wide attacker hold the line.

Having a fullback who is equally comfortable in either role is incredibly important in the modern game as it gives a layer of flexibility to your tactical approach. This can help to unlock teams that sit in a deep block and seek to deny your side space.

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As the ball carrier looks to run with the ball and attack the opposition right back we see Grimaldo quickly look to support his teammate with a run along the outside.

Movements in this manner may seem simple but they are designed to force the immediate defender off balance as he suddenly has to cover the threat of the pass outside along with the position of the ball and the man in possession.

Grimaldo is tactically intelligent which is what you would expect given his education in La Masia, and he has a very strong understanding of space in terms of how to exploit open spaces on the field and how to create room for others with his movement.

You will often see him making similar supporting runs from deep positions even though he is aware that it is unlikely that he will be the target for the pass.

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On this occasion Grimaldo makes his supporting run from an inverted position with his teammate in possession choosing to hold the width of the pitch.

He has already moved up to the same line as the forward players on the pitch to support the attack, and he recognises the opportunity to overload the opposition right back making a run in beyond the defensive line and out to the wider position.

As he makes this movement he isolates the right back from the rest of the defensive structure, and gives the man in possession the option to play the ball down the line in to space or cut back in to the central area.

The movement from inside to outside in this manner also serves to create space centrally as the nearest defenders will be forced to move to cover the run being made by Grimaldo.

As a modern fullback it is essential that you are able to effect the opposition in the final third of the pitch.

With teams becoming more sophisticated in their defensive game plans the ability to stretch the defensive block horizontally across the pitch and threaten in behind the defensive block in the wide areas can be the difference between winning and losing.

Vision

Another key attribute required for a top level fullback in football today is the ability to use the ball intelligently and efficiently when they do get in to space in the final third. Once more, as a player educated extensively at La Masia, Grimaldo has this ability.

Indeed, vision is one of the biggest strengths of Grimaldo’s game but he couples this with the technical ability to make even the most difficult of passes when he is in the final third.

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This image is taken from a Champions League match against Napoli and Grimaldo has possession of the ball right on the touchline having bypassed the entire defensive block.

He has arrived at his current position at speed and slightly off balance. For most fullbacks in this scenario, merely clipping the ball in to the danger area would suffice and count as a good effort. Grimaldo, however, has the technique and the vision to not only see a free player in the penalty area, but to make the pass to his feet and create a goalscoring opportunity.

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Once again Grimaldo has found himself in a more central position of the pitch having advanced from the left back position.

This time the challenge is slightly different from the first example as he is facing a deep and compact defensive block sitting in front of him.

Instead of trying to force his way through with a vertical run or turn the ball back to a deeper teammate, Grimaldo simply waits on the ball for the best option to present itself.

As his advanced teammate identifies a seam in the defensive block and moves through it, Grimaldo has the technical ability to make the pass through the block for the attacking player to run on to.

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As touched upon previously Grimaldo has an excellent appreciation of space and how best to access the space in the attacking phase to bypass the defensive block.

This also extends to an ability to accurately play the diagonal pass across the field for his opposing fullback or winger if they have been left isolated against an opposition defender.

Having the ability to run with the ball, play short combination passes to advance up the near side of the pitch or switch the focus of the attack with a diagonal pass makes Grimaldo exceedingly difficult to play against.

Set Plays

As well as providing an attacking threat with his pace, movement and vision Grimaldo adds as extra string to his bow with his ability to strike a dead ball.

Overwhelmingly left footed, he is capable of bending the ball with a fantastic trajectory or by dropping the ball delicately over the defensive wall in to the corner of the goal.

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From the wide right the expected trajectory would see the ball crossed in towards the six yard box for a running player to meet.

Instead Grimaldo has the confidence and the technique to bend the ball in to the far top corner.

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This time the ball is in a more central area and Grimaldo has the capacity to simply lift the ball delicately over the wall and in to the bottom corner.

Conclusion

As a development club Benfica will soon be looking to cash in on their minimal investment in Grimaldo, especially as the player at the height of his form at the moment.

He has already been heavily linked with moves to the cash rich clubs of the Premier League, with Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal all linked with moves for the left back.

There is still the possibility that he will return to Barcelona who are not immune to taking former players back once they have developed elsewhere.

There is no doubt that he will be on the move sooner rather than later, the only question is just how high the fee will be.

Gavin Peers: Sligo Rovers Legend

It’s not often that I get to do a football article about a player I know personally, a friend even. A player I speak to on a regular basis and a player who I admire, but this is one such article.

As a football fan, there are very few players I would associate the word ‘legend’ with.

Maybe the likes of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool or Lionel Messi at Barcelona are deserving of that particular accolade, but for me there’s one player in the League of Ireland who deserves that title, and that’s ex-Sligo Rovers and current St Patricks Athletic defender Gavin Peers.

Peers started his footballing career over in England with Blackburn Rovers in 2002. He spent three years with the English outfit before moving to Mansfield Town. While there he made 20 appearances and scored 2 goals.

After suffering a bout of home sickness, Peers decided to leave the UK and move move back to Ireland, saying it was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make. In 2006 Peers signed for Sligo Rovers.

Rovers had just been promoted back in to the Premier Division and manager Sean Connor saw Peers as the type of defender who could add a lot to the inexperienced Rovers defence.

For much of the 2006 season, Peers was deployed at right back but when Michael McNamara and Liam Burns both left the club in 2007, Peers moved to his preferred centre back role and the rest is history.

In his first season at the club, Rovers finished a respectable fifth in the league.

Peers went on to make 346 appearances for Sligo Rovers between 2006 and 2016, scoring a total of 26 goals.

While at Rovers, Peers worked alongside some of the greatest managers ever to walk through the gates at the Showgrounds, managers like Sean Connor, Paul Cooke (current Portsmouth manager) Ian Baraclough (current Oldham Athletic assistant manager), Mickey Adams, and current Rovers manager Dave Robertson.

Peers has also played alongside some great players in his 11 seasons at the Showgrounds, the most notable of those is current Republic of Ireland and Everton captain Seamus Coleman.

Such is the friendship between the pair, Coleman was in attendance for Gavin’s testimonial match.

In 2007 Peers gained his only international cap when he was selected for the Irish U-23’s against Slovakia, a game in which he scored in.

He was also part of the League of Ireland XI that opened the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in 2010, when the team played against a Manchester United XI.

During the 2013 FAI Cup final win over Drogheda United, Peers ruptured his cruciate ligament which would keep him out of the majority of the 2014 season.

In his career with Rovers Peers won the League of Ireland title, the FAI Cup (our equivalent to the FA Cup) on three separate occasions, the League Of Ireland Cup once, and the Setanta Sports Cup (a cross over competition between League of Ireland teams and Northern Ireland teams) once.

There are very few players in the world that can say they have won every domestic title on offer.

Peers has also played Champions League football and Europa League football with Rovers, again experiencing something very few players in the League of Ireland have.

In July 2016, Peers was granted a testimonial match against former manager Paul Cookes current side Portsmouth, a game which finished 3-3 and a game which Peers scored with his final kick of the game from the penalty spot.

Although there was a low turnout for the game, it’s one which was enjoyed by all those who were in attendance that night.

With Rovers manager Dave Robertson busy assembling his squad for the 2017 season, I was sure that Gavin would be apart of it but on the 19th November 2016, Dublin side St Patrick’s Athletic announced that Peers had signed with them for the 2017 season, bringing his career with Sligo Rovers to an end.

After 11 seasons Peers sits fifth in the all time appearances for Sligo Rovers.

At only 31, Peers has a few years left playing top level League of Ireland football. While some Sligo Rovers fans will be happy to see him go I just hope that it doesn’t come back to bite us on the arse.

In 2015 when Rovers were struggling Peers was one of the players who always gave 110% on the pitch and was instrumental in Rovers keeping their Premier Division status for the 2016 season.

His experience will prove invaluable for Liam Buckley’s St Pats side as they look to improve on their poor league finish in last season’s competition.

League of Ireland – The Brand Report

December 15th 2016 was a defining day in the history of the League of Ireland. It was the day that fans, the press, and clubs found out once and for all what John Delaney and the FAI really thought of their ‘problem child’ league.

It’s long been suspected by fans that those in Adamstown didn’t really care too much about the league, a fact shown by the €400,000 plus salary John Delaney earns as the head of the FAI, and that the prize money for winning the league is nearly €100,000 less than that.

No one really knows what he does to justify that salary, bar get drunk with Irish fans when the national team is abroad.

When was the last time you saw him at a match? Even Michael D Higgins attends more League of Ireland games than the head of the FAI.

The FAI commissioned Jonathan Gabay to prepare a brand report, a pro active step some might say, a step that might see the league get the backing it deserves. What it turned out to be was nothing short of comical and an insult to those who attend League of Ireland matches in a weekly basis.

The report was on the desk of John Delaney last month and he labelled it very impressive and a very good report. Sure why wouldn’t he? According to the report he was the greatest man in League of Ireland history.

Gabay started of the report by listing out all the achievements that John Delaney has been responsible for when it comes to the League of Ireland brand.

Gabay said “I’m reading out this list because there are so many things to remember.” So many things to remember me hole. Those comments set the tone for the entire presentation.

If club officials who attended the presentation thought the report would be one that could move the league forward, these expectations were out of the window with that one statement about Delaney. As I write this I’m still trying to get my head around it.

Gabay then went on to attack the league’s fans, criticising the use of flares at games (especially the big games), criticising fans for their anti FAI chants, and calling those who part take in them empty vessels, way to go Jonathan.

Next up was an attack on the clubs. His take on the clubs was that they were greedy for looking for more money from the FAI, something he emphasised by use the euro sign at the end of the word more which appeared on the presentation screen.

I’m shocked that clubs want more money, it’s not like they can run their clubs on fresh air and love. Shame on them. Don’t they know that the FAI are hard up for money – we’ll not mention the €5 million bribe paid of the Henry handball.

As surreal as all this sounds it went from bad to worse. One of the ideas that he came up with was clubs to paint the bus station poles outside individual stadia in the club colours – this one actually made me laugh out loud.

He didn’t go in to the cost of this, who was going to maintain them and had any of the bus companies being approached about this idea?

He also seemed happy with the average amount of fans attending games on a weekly basis, just under 1500 for Premier Division games and just under 509 for First Division games.

I don’t know what he was smoking but for me those figures are completely unacceptable for a league that he described as cool.

A lot needs to be done to promote the league itself and upgrade facilities round the country, just don’t ask the FAI for help doing these thing, your club might be conceived as being greedy.

Here’s a full list of the proposals from Gabay;

  • The creation of a specially designed League of Ireland bus that would travel up and down the country brandishing a new logo
  • Bank Holiday games with sides from America’s MLS and NASL
    A Hollywood walk of fame leading up to grounds commemorating star players
  • Uplifting pre- and post-match music
  • Local bus stops painted in club colours
  • Local bus stops offering live scores
  • Half-time EA Sports gaming tournaments on giant screens in the stadium
  • Managers encouraged to speak controversially in the media
  • Name change from SSE Airtricity League to the ‘League of Ireland sponsored by the SSE’
  • Crackdown on use of flares and discouragement of anti-FAI chants at matches

Encourage managers to be more controversial when speaking – yeah to fine them so they can line their own coffers from already hard up clubs – again well done Jonathan.

Let’s compare them to say a proposal from an actual match attending League of Ireland fan;

League of Ireland 10 point plan

These were done by Shane McCarthy and apart from the singing one, these are a lot more realistic than those put forward by Jonathan Gabay.

We all know that the FAI stinks from the bottom to the top, that they have no interest in their ‘problem child’ unless it suits them.

They have sat back while clubs have gone out of business and have done nothing to try and improve the league to make it a more enjoyable experience on match days.

As someone put it to me, no one has the balls to go against Delaney so he’ll be there until the day he has to retire, and at that stage I fear the league will be gone from a national league to more of a regional one.

Delaney needs to go it’s as simple as that, some one needs to stand up to him and show the league that it’s worth fighting for and embracing otherwise by the time I’m a grandfather the League of Ireland will be a distant memory.

By Aaron Cowley



The views expressed in all WFI articles are the author’s own, and don’t always reflect the views of WFI.

The Dream Is Over: Dundalk FC’s European Campaign Comes to an End

After 16 games, Ireland’s footballing heroes Dundalk FC bowed out of the Europa League following a narrow 2-1 defeat against Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the last round of games of this season’s Europa League.

Needing a win and hoping that Zenit St Petersburg could do them a favour and beat AZ Alkmaar, it proved to be too much for Steven Kenny’s men.

Goals from Tal Ben Chaim and Dor Micha left Dundalk’s dreams in tatters. Even the magical Daryl Horgan couldn’t rescue Dundalk this time.

This campaign has been the best ever for an Irish side in Europe.

Dundalk lost out to Legia Warsaw 3-1 on aggregate in the last round of the Champions League qualifiers after beating the likes of Bate Borisov and Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar along the way.

Having dropped into the second tier of European competition, Dundalk showed they were no pushovers did themselves and Ireland proud as they ground out results home and away against some of Europe’s big guns.

What made their European run even more remarkable is that in the space of 21 days towards the end of the domestic season, they played a total of 8 games including 2 in Europe, yet still managed to retain their League of Ireland crown by a massive 7 points over their nearest rivals Cork City. It was also their third league title in a row.

They also lost out narrowly to Cork City in the FAI Cup, going to extra time with the Leesiders before Ireland Under 21 national Seani Maguire settled things in the 120th minute for Cork.

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has built a mentality within his Dundalk side that managers around the world would be envious of. The will of the Dundalk players to always try to get the ball back after nearly 9 months of football is a credit to him.

After losing their main star Richie Towell to English Championships side Brighton last season, I didn’t hold out much hope for Dundalk in either the league or Europe, but every week they proved not only me, but many other fans wrong.

Other players stepped up this season to show their real quality. Players like David McMillan, Daryl Horgan, Gary Rogers and Andy Boyle showed that Dundalk were not a one-trick pony.

The staff and players can now look forward to a well deserved rest before they start pre-season training again in January. Thanks to their heroics in Europe this season, Dundalk have put the League of Ireland on the footballing map.

Fans of other leagues are starting to sit up and take notice of Irish teams and hopefully this will lead to investment within the league from sources other than the national governing body.

This can only be good for the league. For those of us who are neutrals, Dundalk have provided us with some great moments this season. They have set a bench mark for not only themselves in Europe but other League of Ireland sides.

We’ll no longer be seen as pushovers in European club competition and it’s only a matter of time before one of our clubs qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.

The benchmark is set, now lets see who can raise it next year.