There are ways of getting Christmas and New Year off. Most people save up their annual leave and get their request for time off in early. Others make needlessly stupid challenges, get sent off, see an appeal that was always going to fail be rejected and serve a four-match ban. Troy Deeney will not be seen again in action before Watford face Bristol City on 6 January.
If both the end of a year and a break can provide a chance for reflection, Deeney probably needs more of it than most. His current plight may be a case of Wenger karma, a man who tempted fate with his criticisms of Arsenal suffering after gloating.
His fortunes turned after the high point of his season, the influential cameo that helped transform defeat into victory against Arsenal in October. More accurately, they turned after his post-match interview. The Gunners, he said, lacked “cojones.” He explained: “Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think: ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’”
Whether or not Deeney has cojones, he has not demonstrated a great deal of brainpower of late. He has whacked too many people and with rather too little reason. He has joined the bracket of the players whose forcefulness has always formed part of their game and now use it to the exclusion of everything else. He has gone around with the air of one who has discovered footage of John Fashanu and the Wimbledon team of the 1980s on YouTube and is a convert to their cause.
He adopted the bully’s tactics of grabbing someone shorter and slighter than him, Joe Allen, by the face. He duly incurred a three-match suspension. Perhaps it would teach him that crass attempts at intimidation are not always advisable. Then again, perhaps not.
On Saturday, Deeney clattered into a tackle cluelessly, ploughing into Huddersfield’s Collin Quaner in the manner of a man who seemed to think that foreigners don’t like it up ‘em. Cue an early exit.
If his disciplinary issues highlight his difficulties, underlying issues seem to predate them. For all the cartoon displays of aggression, he is winning far fewer aerial duels per game than most target men, from the rookie Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the veteran Peter Crouch, via imports like Steve Mounie, Laurent Depoitre and Joselu.
The 10 men’s subsequent 4-1 defeat extended a wretched record. Deeney has not been on the winning side – indeed, he has only once even been on a drawing side – in seven matches since the Arsenal game. Of late he has been arguably the worst player in the Premier League; not just ineffective, as many others are, but an actual impediment.
If his disciplinary issues highlight his difficulties, underlying issues seem to predate them. For all the cartoon displays of aggression, he is winning far fewer aerial duels per game than most target men, from the rookie Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the veteran Peter Crouch, via imports like Steve Mounie, Laurent Depoitre and Joselu. Couple that with one of the lowest pass completion rates in the division and it poses the question of what a talisman does anymore.
Because he has stopped scoring. He has only mustered two goals, both penalties, in his last 22 appearances. Three of his 10 goals last season were spot kicks, too. It means that, penalties apart, he has seven goals from 54 games since Watford spurned Leicester’s £25 million offer in 2016.
And that, in turn, illustrates the false economy in rejecting the sort of bid that, realistically, they would never receive again for a player who was turning 28 and had spent the vast majority of his career in the lower leagues.
Perhaps Watford, often savvy traders, overestimated Deeney. Perhaps it was a tacit acknowledgement that a club accused of lacking an identity and overseeing a revolving-door transfer policy needed some loyalty and stability. Perhaps Watford lost out because, for once, they considered the personal and not just the financial.
Because, until recently, there was much to admire about Deeney, a man who turned his life around, going from prison inmate to indispensable member of a successful side and the fifth member of a select group who have scored a century of goals for Watford. But in a season with as many red-card offences as goals, a self-appointed enforcer is threatening to cross the divide from legend to liability.