In an era where sharp, slick attackers such as Roberto Firmino increasingly define the Premier League, Troy Deeney’s circumvention of the modern striker’s evolution is a testament to his self-development, while negotiating of one of the most challenging upbringings England can offer.
One of three raised by a single mother in once the largest housing estate in Europe, Chelmsley Wood, Deeney’s transformation to his current lifestyle required an incredible amount of self-motivation. At least it would be assumed this was the case. After formerly being expelled from school, a brief return didn’t yield a single GCSE before leaving indefinitely to become a bricklayer.
Even when his footballing ability was noticed by Aston Villa who invited him for a trial, this did little to motivate the Englishman; skipping the first three days of the trial as he knew there was a game on the fourth. Unsurprisingly Villa decided against offering the striker a contract.
Back then he believed playing for Chelmsley Town was “the pinnacle” and required some fortune to be scouted by Walsall’s head coach, after his own sons’ game was postponed. Still drunk after a bender Deeney caught the eye after scoring seven in an 11-4 victory. Although, the Englishman only attended a trial with the League Two side after Chelmsley’s manager woke him up and paid for his taxi. It’s difficult to envisage someone with this work ethic reaching the elite levels of professional football.
Almost certainly unaware of the events unfolding before his trial, Walsall saw enough to offer Deeney his first professional contract in 2006, but instantly sent him out on loan for the remainder of the season.
After returning the following season with improved fitness, the 19-year-old was relocated as a winger. Initially the move appeared to work scoring against Millwall in September of 2007; however, that effort proved to be his only goal in 40 appearances. Adapting to his wide role, as well as the increased standard due to playing in League One, was proving difficult.
2008 started in a similar vein of form, throughout the whole year he managed just two goals. However, as is so often the way, a change in manager can be the catalyst for opportunity. Chris Hutchings restored Deeney to his familiar central role and was promptly rewarded with a run of nine goals in the manager’s first 12 games.
Thriving as Walsall’s focal point, the striker established consistency to his goalscoring record, becoming the side’s top scorer for the 2009-10 season. After securing the clubs Player of the Season award and guiding The Saddlers to a remarkable overachievement of tenth place in League one, it would be assumed Deeney might finally be beginning to grasp that through practice he could aspire to strive within football. Actually, though, he’s admitted at the time he merely played football as it was less effort than laying bricks.
Either way, he was told that he would be leaving Walsall in the summer of 2010 amidst interest from multiple Championship clubs. To force through a move after negotiations stalled Deeney decided to reduce his pre-season work ethic; ultimately the decision worked – however it came at a price. He transferred to Watford for a fee of just £500,000 and made his debut the same day. The attackers languid pre-season left him miles behind the rest of the squad with regards to fitness, and this wasn’t helped by manager Malky Mackay deploying him out wide. Just three goals in 20 starts followed.
Due to the previous campaigns uncharacteristically tepid performances, Deeney found a starting role challenging to come by initially under new manager Sean Dyche. Though the current Burnley boss had the foresight to reinstate the Englishman in his preferred role as a striker, eventually being rewarded with a tally of 12 goals. One such goal encapsulated Deeney’s presence on the pitch; he gained possession through a sliding interception, followed by a delightful curling lob over the keeper, with a trademark grin to celebrate. That strike against Ipswich Town would later receive the Goal of the Season in the Championship for 2012.
Perhaps enjoying his upgraded lifestyle as a footballer, a little too much, Deeney frequently drank excessively on weekends and notoriously got involved in a brawl outside a nightclub, leading to him kicking a man in the head. One man broke his jaw, and another required stitch, CCTV footage of the incident helped prosecute the striker, culminating in a 10-month sentence.
Just under three of those months were served due to the remorse Deeney showed and the fact this was his first offence. The ordeal was a reality check for the footballer, as he went unpaid throughout his sentence, learning what life would be like for his family if consequences had been more severe. The experience even changed Deeney’s attitude toward education, gaining GCSE’s in English, Math’s and Science. As well as stating he didn’t want to be hypocritical when telling his son how vital his studies are.
Post-release from prison the striker’s reliability for goals only increased; further, his aggressive style was more controlled, and despite regularly flirting with the line he rarely overstepped it. 19 Championship goals aided Watford’s third-place league finish, agonisingly missing out on automatic promotion by just two points.
The Hornets would play Leicester City in the Play-offs, although the opening away fixture finished 1-0 in favour of the home side at the King Power Stadium, thanks to a David Nugent goal.
The home fixture produced possibly the most dramatic playoff moment in history. The game began well for Watford, who scored through Matej Vydra after just 15 minutes to level the aggregate score, however only four minutes later Nugent restored Leicester’s advantage over the two legs. Although, Vydra levelled on aggregate once more when he found the back of the net just past the hour mark.
But the drama really began in added time; with moments to spare Antony Knockheart went to ground controversially in the box and referee Michael Oliver awarded 94th-minute penalty. Knockheart stepped up to take the penalty against ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who produced an exceptional double save to deny Leicester a guaranteed place in the Championship Play-off Final.
The resulting Watford clearance found its way up the pitch to Fernando Forestieri who surged forwards to reach the byline and hooked a cross back to the far post. Jonathan Hogg had the foresight to play the ball back across goal, an onrushing Troy Deeney smashed the knockdown through two defenders and a diving Kasper Schmeichel with the clock on 97 minutes to send The Hornets through. Promptly removing his shirt and launching himself into the crowd, Deeney sparked a euphoric pitch invasion.
Unfortunately, that was to be the highlight of the season; nerves got the better of both Watford and Crystal Palace in the final, the tense affair finished 0-0 after 90 minutes. Extra time provided little salvation, the only goal of the game coming via Kevin Phillips 105th minute penalty after Wilfred Zaha was tripped on the periphery of the area.
Failure only served to fuel Deeney’s hunger, the following 2013/14 season he opened the campaign with four goals in the first two fixtures, including a hattrick against Bournemouth, the first of his career. By March he’d reached the 20-league goal tally, becoming the first Watford player to do so in consecutive seasons since Luther Blissett in 1983. Deeney finished the season with 24 Championship goals and picked up the club Player of the Year award, signifying the remarkable journey since the conviction that could have ended his career. Though the season was a success only on a personal level, the Pozzo family takeover didn’t go to plan leading to a 13th place finish.
Almunia departed, and manager Giuseppe Sannino decided to award Deeney the Watford captaincy for the upcoming 2014-15 campaign, a responsibility he’s relished since. Despite having four head coaches throughout a turbulent season, Watford finished second in the Championship, just a point behind winners Bournemouth. Deeney was once more an instrumental factor in orchestrating the promotion through being the club’s top scorer for a second consecutive year.
A mixed introduction to Premier League life followed, securing his first goal against Stoke City in a 2-0 victory was a highlight. But he rapidly turned from hero to villain through scoring an 87th-minute equalising penalty against Manchester United, only to reverse roles with a 90th-minute own goal; meaning United left Vicarage Road with all three points. Five goals in six matches followed, serving as proof his brutish physicality was still effective in the Premier League. Watford recorded their highest Premier League finish to date ending the season in 13th.
Coupled with Premier League survival The Hornets also saw off Newcastle United, Leeds United and Arsenal, all by a single goal, in the FA Cup to appear at the new Wembley. The fixture was a repeat of their previous encounter there against Crystal Palace.
Yannick Bolasie ensured the worst possible start for Watford, converting after just six minutes. Deeney’s equaliser midway through the second half provided hope; however, Connor Wickham quelled this six minutes later, sending Palace through to the final.
Despite an impressive return to the Premier League, the Pozzo family stayed true to form and sacked Quique Flores. His replacement was former Internazionale manager Walter Mazzarri, who after a promising start at Vicarage Road, failed to implement the attacking brand of football that characterised his spell in charge of Napoli. Six consecutive defeats to finish the season dropped the Hornets from tenth to a dismal 17th, although comfortably above Hull in the relegation zone beneath them.
Due to the turgid style of play implemented on the pitch and terrible finish to the season, Mazzarri was, perhaps justifiably, the next Watford manager sacked after just a year.
His replacement was somewhat of an unknown quantity, and to a degree remains one still, coming in the form of Marco Silva. Silva came to prominence via spells in charge of Sporting CP, Olympiacos and Hull, the latter of which he instantaneously transformed through dramatically increasing their tempo and almost achieving Premier League survival. The appointment was widely regarded as being a shrewd one, although due to his lack of experience and tendency for brief tenures, ultimately a gamble.
At first, it was thought the gamble paid off, after eight games The Hornets sat in a dizzying fourth place. However, reports as early as November suggested the vacant manager’s position at Everton was an attractive proposition to Silva and were scarcely denied by the Portuguese manager. A dramatic loss of form followed. It’s plausible to suggest this was in part to the respect the dressing room must have lost for their new manager. Just 21 days into 2018 the Pozzo family cut ties with yet another manager and the same day Javi Gracia was appointed. Despite their reputation, this was the first time since promotion to the Premier League Watford’s owners had felt it necessary to sack a manager mid-season.
The decision suited Deeney who didn’t appear naturally fit for Silva’s intense style. Gracia ultimately did enough to circumvent a relegation scrap, but through an uninspiring means of play and acquiring just 15 points in 14 games to finish 14th.
Despite ensuring Premier League survival, the manner in which it occurred left many curious if the axe would be wielded on yet another manager in charge at Vicarage Road. It wasn’t, and Gracia was afforded the luxury of a pre-season to prepare.
29 appearances during the 2017/18 season was Deeney’s fewest at Watford to date, and despite the change in the dugout, this is no excuse for just five league goals at a rate of 0.17 per match. Both statistics point towards a decrease in the striker’s value to the rest of the team, at least on the pitch. Although as long-term captain of four years, the Englishman represents something of a rarity off it; stability.
A surging start to this current campaign cast doubts that Deeney’s formerly untouchable position at the club had been devalued, his partnership with Andre Gray flourished as their contrast in playing style blended superbly. Garcia’s variation on the classic 4-4-2 allowed Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes, both typically central midfielders, to tuck in and benefit from any lay off’s usually set up by the unselfish Deeney.
However, since that run of four consecutive victories Watford’s form has deserted them once more. Christian Kabasele’s sending off against Bournemouth cost The Hornet’s dearly, but the problem may run deeper. Eddie Howe marked six years in charge in his second spell at Bournemouth, the Premier League’s longest-serving manager, Watford have had nine managers in that period, eight of whom have lasted for fewer than 40 games.
Despite the myriad of changes that have occurred in the dugout and on the pitch at Vicarage Road, Deeney has remained a constant, perhaps leading to an overreliance on his presence for stability. This season’s stats suggest an improvement on previous in areas such as shot accuracy but do come as a result of having fewer shots; realistically it’s too early to tell.
Either way, there can be no doubt Troy Deeney has developed his mentality with experience throughout his career, culminating in an improved attitude towards not just sport but equally his role within society. He rarely publicises it, but regularly undertakes community work, as well as advising previous offenders, significantly above and beyond what he was sentenced.
His influence at Watford may be waning; however the striker is an ode to the past, be it through his tenacious physical intimidation or unpretentious working-class attitude. An open and honest character that will be sorely missed when his time as captain of The Hornets is up.