The challenge Watford face in recruiting the most promising talent in the town and its surrounding areas was illustrated this week when two players within the club’s catchment area gained international recognition.
Hemel Hempstead-born Harry Winks, the 19-year-old midfielder rated very highly at Tottenham, was invited to train with Roy Hodgson’s England squad on Monday, continuing the head coach’s recent policy of given the country’s most promising talent a taste of life with the senior team.
A former pupil at Cavendish School, Winks was named as an unused substitute for Spurs during the goalless draw with Everton earlier this season and came on as a substitute in their Europa League game with FK Qarabag in September. He has been capped by England at Under-17, U18 and U19 levels. Frustratingly for the scouts at Vicarage Road, he was spotted by Spurs at a football camp in the town.
“I came through a local soccer camp out near Watford,” Winks said in an interview with the Tottenham Journal. “It was one of those where you pay to do it during half-term. One of the coaches was a member of the Tottenham development squad – he was a coach there and he sent me up to the development squad at the age of six or seven. From there I progressed into the academy and I’ve just been there ever since. I’ve come all the way through. I like to model my game on players like Xavi, who like the keep the ball with a high volume of passes and pass completion,” he said. “Goals and assists are obviously a key part for a midfielder, but if I had to describe myself I’m just generally a tidy, technical midfielder that likes to keep the ball and create chances.”
Missing out on Cauley Woodrow is even more glaring as he is the son of former Watford midfielder Martin Patching. The former Hemel Hempstead school pupil trained with Spurs as a schoolboy, was picked up by Luton before moving to Fulham. The forward was on the bench for Gareth Southgate’s England Under-21 side on Monday night.
Another player from the HP postcode is Brandon Austin, the young Tottenham goalkeeper who went to Cavendish School, the same as Winks. Born even closer to Vicarage Road yet still picked up from under the Hornets’ noses by Tottenham are Joe Pritchard and Tom Carroll. Born in Watford and a product of the Queens’ Academy in Bushey, Pritchard, 19, is in the Development Squad at White Hart Lane and captained their U18 team to Premier League Champions Cup Final success, against Benfica, last year from midfield.
Carroll, who went to the same school as Steven Finn, has been a professional at Spurs since 2010 and has captained the England U21 side. The 23-year-old midfield technician was on the bench for Spurs’ 1-1 draw against Arsenal last time out. Carroll was recruited by Spurs along with his Parmiter’s School classmates Nathan Byrne and Harry Crawford. Byrne joined Wolves in August after scoring hat-trick for Swindon against Bradford, while Crawford was capped by Republic of Ireland U19s and played for Southend and Barnet.
Aiming to follow Carroll through the ranks at Spurs is Keanan Bennetts, who went to St Michael’s School. A live-wire of a winger capable of playing on either flank, the Borehamwood raised Bennetts is the subject of an international tug of war. He played for Germany at U15 level, England at U16 level and has been named in the Young Lions squad for the U17 match between the two countries on Friday.
Completing the hoovering up of talent by Spurs from the Watford area is Dom Ball. The defender was at the Harefield Academy along with Bernard Mensah but was released at 16. He was picked up by Spurs and is on loan at Glasgow Rangers with Mark Warburton.
“I used to train with Mark at Watford when I was much younger, from the age of 11 to 16,” Ball said in an interview with Sky Sports.
Losing players to Spurs is a tough blow but understandable given their lofty status. However, missing out on a player from the area who went to MK Dons is a bitter pill to swallow. Sheyi Ojo, 18, went to Longdean School and by the age of 13 was already training with Karl Robinson’s first-team squad at Stadium:mk. Watford’s head of academy Chris McGuane will have worked with Ojo at MK Dons. It did not take long for one of the big boys to come calling, Liverpool snapping up Ojo for a fee believed to be £2m when he was just 14. Oji is loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers under the guidance of the Kenny Jackett.