“I liked the boy on the right. He cuts in on his left, hits a lovely diagonal but he looks a bit lightweight. Where’s he come from?”
Those were the words of a scout we spoke to last night following the Professional Development League match between Watford and Ipswich Town at London Colney. There are no prizes for guessing who he was talking about: Steven Berghuis. He summed him up in nutshell, although we’re not sure if it says more about the scout that he didn’t know the identity of a player who cost £4.5m or whether it shows just how far Berghuis has faded into obscurity since signing from AZ Alkmaar.
A game against an Ipswich Town side, who had to pluck at least one player out of school to make up the numbers yesterday, was probably not what Berghuis, 24, had in mind when his agent, Mino Raiola, and Gino Pozzo struck a deal to bring him to Watford, amid considerable fanfare, instead of PSV. But any game would have done for Berghuis who had not played any football since an under-21 friendly against Reading in January and not a minute of Premier League football since the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in October.
The suggestion he isn’t made of stern enough stuff for life in English football was not helped by the sight of him wearing a short-sleeve shirt and gloves. Either it’s cold and you wear a long-sleeve shirt and gloves or it isn’t. Simple. Anyway, that’s just a pet hate of ours and an aside.
Sporting gloves and wearing No 7 on his back, Berghuis produced two Hollywood passes inside the first 15 minutes and in relatively quick succession, too. ‘Oh, hello’ we thought. Both were hit from right to left with pin-point accuracy and picked out Mahlando Martin on the opposite flank. The switches had the U18 lads watching on the sidelines purring. But much like Capoue, another client of Raiola, Berghuis failed to sustain these moments of high class or consistently influence the game. For a 20-minute spell either side of half-time you forgot he was even out there. The U18 coach David Horseman wouldn’t have been able to tell Dean Austin much when he came out to check on the progress of the winger.
Alberto Diaz, another of Quique Sanchez Flores’ assistants, watched the entire match and he will, with some concern, have been able to tell the head coach how the winger passed up one free-kick opportunity from ideal range and then saw George Byers, the captain, pull rank on another, executing a short free-kick routine that ended with Sean Murray firing over, high wide and handsome. It says a lot about Berghuis’ confidence, or lack of it, that he didn’t insist on taking the free-kick and at least attempt to create some headlines by firing one into the top corner. If you don’t buy a ticket…
Berghuis had a chance soon after from much closer range after a cut back from Dennon Lewis, but his effort lacked any conviction. If you were being harsh you could say it was powder puff. “For crying out loud,” exclaimed an enthusiastic onlooker.
Steven’s younger sibling, Tristan, was on the sidelines (he’s the spit of him, by the way) and he will have been pleased at the final ten minutes of action while his big brother was on the field. Finally blowing off the cobwebs, he embarked on an eye-catching slalom run from right to left and then a neat reverse pass sent Lewis, who played as a marauding full-back, scampering down the inside right channel. Next, in setting up a chance for Byers, he sliced through the Ipswich defence with such speed and balance that he ran into the advertising hoardings and sat on one momentarily to get his breath back.
We felt his best moment, and most encouraging moment, was the way he beat Joshua Emmanuel, the strapping right-back who has played for the first teams of Crawley and Ipswich this season, by checking back onto his less favoured right foot and slinging over a deep cross that Troy Deeney or Odion Ighalo would have gobbled up.
With his tail up, it was a real shame Berghuis was withdrawn soon after in a pre-planned substitution. Yes, we appreciate the advent of sports science and understand about players entering the red zone in the susceptibility-to-injury scale but, come on, he’s hardly being preserved for the FA Cup quarter-final tie this weekend, is he? And who knows where his next game is coming from.
On the evidence of the two occasions we have met him, Berghuis is a lovely lad. Perhaps too nice if anything. He clearly needs an arm around the shoulder and it was interesting to note, on his walk round the perimeter of the pitch, he stopped and had a chat with Alan Cozzi, the club photographer. “You’ll get there,” said Cozzi.
It didn’t sit quite right with us, however, that Berghuis headed straight for the changing rooms after being replaced. We would like to have seen him stay and watch his teammates for the final 20 minutes. Instead, he headed, fairly upbeatly, to the dressing room arm in arm with his brother. By the looks of it, his father, Frank, was also at the game and they had a chat in the back of his dad’s car before Steven and his girlfriend headed off to their home in Hadley Wood in their Mercedes. Berghuis could have done a lot worse than hang around afterwards and hold court with Mark Kennedy, the Ipswich Town coach, and Harry Kewell, two players who know a thing or two about making the grade as a Premier League winger.