By Matt Rowson
Colin Lee. How? Still?
It's twelve years since his spectacularly unsuccessful eight months as Watford manager. Many other things that happened in 1990 seem twelve years ago... but not that. Close your eyes and wince at the memory of Joe McLaughlin turning like an oil tanker, Andy Kennedy with his hands on his hips, Mark Gavin falling over...
After leaving Vicarage Road Lee spent considerable time working with Mark McGhee at Reading, Leicester and Wolves, and then had thoroughly unspectacular spells in charge of Wolves and Torquay. And now Walsall have given him a job. Why ?
The answer to this question, as to so many questions over the years, was provided by Nigel Gibbs. Or, more precisely, by Nigel Gibbs' second testimonial programme. Flicking through idly, I was struck by an old picture of Lee from his time at Watford, nestled amongst the glowing testimonies to the world's greatest ever right-back from St.Albans. Except it wasn't Colin Lee. It was Martin Kemp with spiky hair. Or, more relevantly, Reggie Kray. Or Eastenders' dodgy gangster Steve Owen.
Suddenly everything makes sense. Looking at Lee now... slightly older, slightly greyer. But those narrow eyes that remain cold when the mouth is smiling. Those dark, almost Mediterranean features. And, at every turn, Darren Bazeley... the protegé who Lee brought through the Youth Team at Vicarage Road, handed his full debut and then signed twice for Wolves and for Walsall. Bazelli, Don Coline's loyal consiglieri. It all becomes clear. "You don't wanna give me a job ? F*** you, pay me. You rather give a job to Jim Smith ? F*** you, pay me."
The mind boggles at how many chairmen must have found horse's heads and the like in their beds as Don Coline made them an offer they couldn't refuse. Actually, thinking about it, horse's heads are both too flash and too unrefined for Reading. Winged Rolls Royce statuettes, perhaps. Or rhodedendrons.
Anyhow, Don Coline seems to have done a reasonable job of sifting through the armies of out-of-contract players over the summer to enhance the Saddlers' squad to the point where survival would now seem to be expected, rather than the surprise it was to most last time around. Which rather contradicts the pretext for the intro to this preview, but why let the truth get in the way of a good gag?
In goal for the Saddlers is Jimmy Walker, by wide repute the club's best ever keeper and a strong asset... also nicknamed "Whacker", so he's probably Don Coline's henchman. Or something. Cover is the much travelled Gavin Ward.
At right-back, Consiglieri Bazelli... now extremely grey and pushing thirty very hard indeed. Which makes me feel old, but not quite as old as Bazelli, which is something. Actually, Darren's departure in the summer of 1999 was the first thing to take the shine off that summer (the new season was the second), but that's far too emotional a thread for this particular preview.
Zigor Aranalde - another worthy name for a gangster - is at left back. Good going forward but ponderous defending and particularly unreliable when on the back foot, Aranalde has to go some to justify the sporting of his red boots. The solid Ian Roper should line up at centreback, with New Zealand international Danny Hay, a summer recruit from Leeds, alongside him. Matt Carbon may threaten Hay's place, depending on how he fared for the Saddlers' reserves on Tuesday evening - he has had a shoulder injury. Tony Barras is another experienced option, but Matthew Gadsby sleeps with the fishes.
Don Coline would probably advise against hating your enemies for fear of affecting your judgment. Such cold rationale becomes difficult to bear in mind when faced with the gnarled Martyn O'Connor, for whom the word "warhorse" might have been invented. Released by Birmingham in February, 34-year-old O'Connor is back with his home town club. He has had a jaw injury, the causes for which can only be guessed at ("Never let anyone outside the family know what you're thinking again!") and was also making a return in the reserves on Tuesday.
If fit, he should renew his St.Andrews partnership with Danny Sonner, a summer recruit who seemed to be carrying much of the workload during Saturday's insipid home defeat to Reading. Occasional Sky Sports Spanish pundit Roberto Martinez has featured in O'Connor's absence, but he was sent off on Saturday and Saddlers fans are still trying to work out what he's for. The eager but lightweight Darren Wrack should play down the left - he's good on running, not so good on delivery. Promising striker Gary Birch has been played out-of-position on the right, a role in which he seems to be wasted. Other options in the middle include Fitzroy Simpson, recruited on a short-term deal as cover having turned down a new contract, apparently with the intention of negotiating a more lucrative package abroad. Pedro Matias, another Spaniard, can also play down the left whilst Mark Wright could come in on the right hand side. Another option here would be Brazilian winger "Harry" Herivelto. I don't need to concoct a gag about his nickname, it writes itself really. There has, as yet, been no sign of Portuguese winger Dani Rodrigues, signed on a free from Southampton who are developing a knack for signing invisible players.
Steve Corica, another of Don Coline's regular henchmen, has been playing "in the hole" behind the lone striker, and appears to be the side's chief source of inspiration if only sporadically. He has been playing with a rib injury which appears to have prompted an early exit at the weekend. The willing Jorge Leitão has been doing the thankless job of running things largely on his own up front; other candidates for an attacking role are big Australian David Zdrilic, yet to impress after arriving from SpVgg Unterhaching, and another Brazilian Junior, who finally debuted at the weekend and has tricks, but no right foot. Don Coline has probably cut it off, or something.
Walsall will be a tough, difficult side to play against, their formula so far relying on a solid defence. Everyone at Watford could probably do with some fun after last weekend - hell, I know I could - so another step towards developing a formidable home record would be nice. Don't expect Don Coline to be providing the laughs though. "Do I amuse you? Am I funny like a clown?"...