Position: Central defender
From: Glasgow Rangers - £900,000 - August 2001
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: A changed man
Past profiles: February 2002
It's fair to say that Marcus Gayle didn't exactly set the world on fire during the 2001/02 season. Seven goals from forty-one appearances wasn't the best return from a player who was the fourth most expensive in the club's history.
Marcus, somewhat unfairly in my view, took a lot of flack from most quarters in that season, where he was hindered by a niggling back injury and Luca Vialli's insistence on trying to pass the ball into the net at every given opportunity. Memories of last season are clouded by a general feeling of disappointment and underachievement, given the stratospheric hopes of the Vialli era, and the prospects for Gayle, having been transfer-listed in February as part of a cost-cutting drive, can't have been too exciting. I, for one, did not expect to see him in a Watford shirt this year.
Following the departures of Vega, Issa, Galli and Blondeau, we were left with Paul Robinson, Neil Cox and the recently-introduced Lloyd Doyley as our only recognised defensive players with first-team experience. We needed another centre-back desperately, and Ray Lewington made no secret of the fact that he was looking to make a few defensive additions to the squad.
During my summer in the USA, I received an email from a friend who told me of Marcus' future conversion to centre-back. I have to say I was a touch sceptical, even given Watford's history of success in this endeavour with players such as Tommy Mooney and Wilf Rostron. I've watched players play in only a slight alteration to their normal position, i.e. left-midfield instead of left-back, or right-midfield instead of centrally, and become completely anonymous as they fail to grasp the demands of the different role. How would Marcus cope with the switch from goal-getter to stopper? He certainly had the height and pace to do a job there, but could he drop fourteen years of attack-based play and become a competent centre-back in two months?
The transformation of the man has been nothing short of astounding. The early signs weren't promising, as the defence leaked goals away from home, but away form has proved something of a horror show this year, and Marcus has often been one of few players to emerge with any credit following defeats away from Vicarage Road.
It is a measure of the strides he has made in this position that Ray Lewington kept faith with him once Sean Dyche returned to full fitness after an injury, and even after the signing of Wayne Brown who made no small impact during his loan spell from Ipswich last year. Keeping out players who have been central defenders for their entire professional careers is a mark of the way Gayle has made the centre of defence his new home.
Part of the reason he has maintained his place in the team is just simply how easy he makes defending look. Being one of the tallest players on the pitch helps. Marcus gives away height to very few players in the league, and as such is able to casually repel any in-bound attacks by merely flicking his head at the ball. Perhaps as a result of his years of finding ways past defenders, he knows all the tricks opposing strikers will try, and more often than not makes important challenges to stop situations becoming dangerous.
He has also demonstrated a willingness to resume his attacking play every so often. Frequently used as a near-post flick-on option at set pieces, or as a heading decoy to draw away taller defenders, he has had a hand in several goals, and deserves to get a couple himself. Marcus also has an excellent ability to play out from the back with a measured forward ball, often dropping to an advanced midfielder or striker. Again, perhaps from being in those positions in previous years has given him the ability to deliver the ball in useful positions for the attacking players.
Having recently signed a two-year extension to his contract, Marcus Gayle looks to be forming part of the Watford back line for some time to come.
Last updated: March 2003