From: Youth team
He is: As young as he is tall
"Development" is the key word. What matters with promising youngsters is the point at which they
stop progressing and growing as footballers.
If you look at some of the recent products of the Watford youth scheme, then you see
that progress has stopped short of potential. Bruce Dyer, who had it in him to be
sensational, is essentially the same now as when he left Vicarage Road -
hugely exciting and energetic but equally erratic and frustrating. On a local level,
Wayne Andrews has not matured as we hoped he would and finds himself being given a
free transfer as a consequence.
For a while, early last season, it appeared as if Gifton Noel-Williams' development
had reached its natural conclusion. An essentially chaotic player, he showed no sign of being
able to smooth the rough edges from his game. It wasn't that he was bad - many
have fashioned fruitful careers as agents of mayhem - but he simply wasn't good enough
to survive a leap into the Premiership. His youth deflected criticism and rightly
so...but if you're the same player at nineteen as you will be at twenty-eight, youth
won't save you....
And then, suddenly and unexpectedly like a plant that bursts into flower when you thought
it'd been dead for months, Gifton was the very definition of a centre forward. Against
Oxford at home without his usual striking partners, he was the focus of all our attacks. Like
Jason Lee with better ball control, he received passes with his back to goal, turned and
roared forward, usually with a defender hanging round his neck. He was awesome, Oxford
couldn't live with him.
He missed some chances that day. But gradually it seemed that his finishing caught
up with the great leap forward taken by the rest of his game. When he got on the
end of a chance, he looked confident of scoring - the results, most notably an extraordinary improvised effort
against Sunderland, were as thrilling as we'd been promised when he first emerged from the youth team.
Sadly, that Sunderland game was also notable for a knee injury that was to sideline him for the rest of
the campaign. We missed him terribly, only Tommy Mooney's last-gasp heroics saving us from firing endless
blanks and sliding away into mid-table. Still, it all worked out - while I suspect that, with Gifton's help, we might've
made it into the playoffs rather more comfortably, I'm also aware that the unstoppable momentum of that storming
run-in was what carried us to victory at Wembley.
Back in light training as pre-season begins, much rests on Gifton's young
shoulders next season. He is still developing and must continue to do so. But it'd be handy if he scared the hell out of
a few Premiership defences at the same time.
Last updated: July 1999