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Player profiles:
Paolo Vernazza
Position: Midfielder
From: Arsenal - £350,000 - December 2000
Career stats: Soccerbase
He has: A penchant for drifting in and out
Past profiles: March 2001


I had a Renault 5 once. I'm not a car person, I'm not "into" cars in that sort of way, but the Renault 5 was my first car and it generally did the job and I liked it. Until at some point, and for whatever reason, it got cranky. Mechanics who really could have been speaking Martian for all I knew (and how they must see the likes of me coming) talked about the distributor and the carburetor and other mysterious things. All I knew was that every now and again, the thing just stopped working. Trundling along quite happily, no smoke, no drama, no bangs just... suddenly no power, gliding wherever momentum took it.

In every other respect the Renault was great. It was a car, for one thing, which was a big improvement at the time. It had quite a decent engine for such a relatively small machine. But a car that decides to stop moving every now and again is, well, about as reliable as a central midfielder with a penchant for drifting in and out of football matches...

Which isn't terribly fair as a metaphor, emphasising as it does the weakest aspect of Paolo Vernazza's game. But it is a fairly crucial and unavoidable characteristic, and one which isn't shared by the majority of Vernazza's rivals for a central midfield spot - something for which there will still be fierce competition, despite the departures of summer 2003.

At his best, Vernazza is marvellous. He's competitive, elegant, clever and occasionally quite breathtaking, and the form which characterised his first few months at Vicarage Road prompted a much more breathless profile from someone not prone to these things.

That his form has tailed off since is often attributed to the well-publicised domestic incident that saw Vernazza stabbed in his own home by an intruder during the 2001-02 season. It's impossible to assess the degree to which this affected Paolo's form - and harder still to pass any judgment or criticise in consequence - but it's perhaps significant that Ray Lewington has persevered with Vernazza in one of those hotly contested central roles when his form hasn't always quite demanded it.

On occasions in the second half of the 2002-03 season we saw more frequent glimpses of Paolo at his best; an aggressiveness characteristic of his new manager, and an increased willingness to take control of football games rather than just take part in them. He still performs best in a side that's performing well however - note that even the dodgiest motor doesn't struggle when it comes to rolling downhill - and badly needs to turn in the stronger performances with a bit more consistency.

The Renault, incidentally, eventually met its end... in a ball of black smoke on the M1. The roadside support bloke that I called out softened the blow by towing me considerably further than my cover might have led me to expect - he had spotted the common badge of allegiance in red and yellow in the rear windscreen. The Renault, however, had run out of time.

Paolo's contract expires in the summer of 2004. Good Paolo is plenty good enough. It would just be nice to see him a little more often.

Matt Rowson
Last Updated: May 2003