The test of a player’s mental fortitude, as well as his ability, is often judged by whether he can do it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke. Well, Abdoulaye Doucoure did it on a parky one in the Potteries to such an extent that it begged the question as to where on earth he’s been all season.
Why did it take until now, at the midway point of the season and with the team going through such an injury crisis that the next episode of Behind the Badge could be filmed in casualty, for Doucoure to be given his head?
“Why have we not seen him?” asked BBC Three Counties sports editor Geoff Doyle on commentary. “He was the forgotten man. Everybody had just forgotten about Doucoure because he never played and we thought he was one that the manager just didn’t fancy or didn’t rate. But, I’ll tell you what, he has to start the next game.”
He’ll indeed start the next game, against Burton, largely because Watford have run out of midfield options but it’s whether he’ll start the one after that, against Middlesbrough, and the one after that and the one after that. Has a player, who would have been running out for Lorient this season had the paperwork at the end of the summer window been completed in time, managed to resurrect his Watford career and change the thinking of the head coach?
“He played very good, great actually,” said Mazzarri. “There are somethings he needs to improve, like his shooting – he needs to score more – but he’s got a big future in front of him.”
That’s what the recruitment committee of Gino Pozzo, Scott Duxbury, Luke Dowling and Filippo Giraldi felt when they brought forward their plans to sign him this time last year because of Liverpool’s gathering interest in the former Rennes midfielder. We saw him play a few times for Granada last year and he looked the real deal as they escaped the drop again, so it was strange when word started to emerge from the London Colney training ground that Mazzarri wasn’t sold on him.
On Tuesday night he was intelligent in his use of the ball, showed remarkable stamina for someone who has barely kicked a ball this season and great versatility: he started as a No 10, then drifted out to the left before finishing the match in a deep-lying role. And he almost bagged an equaliser with a shot the Watford fans behind the goal could see was heading in only for Hemel Hempstead-born keeper Lee Grant to keep it out with a flying save.
“I agree [that Doucoure was Watford’s best player],” said Derek Payne, the former Watford midfielder and now radio summariser. “I thought he put in a tremendous performance. He showed heart, he showed character. He’s willing to run in behind, he was willing to get on the ball, he didn’t hide. Considering he’s been ignored all season, he’s hardly had any minutes in his legs, if that’s what he can do after two games, fitness-wise and effort-wise and to have that energy, then he’s going to be a force, I feel, for the rest of the season.”
Yes, it’s just one game and one swallow doesn’t make a summer and all that, but, in 90 minutes at the Bet365 Stadium, Doucoure made a bit of a mockery of Mazzarri’s judgement. Remember, this is a player who the head coach only named in a league squad on four previous occasions and only trusted him to enter the pitch twice.
“The big question is why hasn’t he been involved before these last two games,” said Payne. “It baffles me because if you can play like that after only your second appearance then you’re a decent player.”