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Danny Webber
Position: Striker
From: Manchester United - confusing transfer - July 2003
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: Destined for great things. Probably.


"Whatever happens, we'll have no problems scoring goals", I mused as I contemplated our strike force of Helguson, Fitzgerald, Norville and the newly acquired Jimmy Davis and Bruce Dyer. Then came the news that most Watford fans had dreamed of, but never really seemed possible. There had been little suggestion that Danny Webber was ready to call time on his attempts to break into the Manchester United first team picture, and even less that, should he do so, we'd be in a position to sign him. But somehow, a complicated deal (seemingly involving Chris Eagles (a former Watford academy player, now at Old Trafford), a helpful and wealthy supporter and, most bizarrely, Manchester United being the Good Guys) was put together.

But, besides our desperate financial predicament, there was another obstacle: Nottingham Forest. Danny spoke to Forest, who made an offer for him. Who do you think most players would choose? Danny chose us. Not the former European Champions, with their twenty-five thousand crowds, but Watford. And there's part of what makes Danny Webber so charming, so likeable. He is here because he wants to be.

Amazing. Danny Webber. How are they going to make use of all those strikers? Who cares - that's Ray's problem. We've got Danny Webber. Not for a month or two. He's ours! The line from the club was that this signing did take us over-budget, but the opportunity to bring a player such as Danny to the club was too good to turn down. And most, if not all Watford supporters agreed.

So, we looked forward to the season with great anticipation, looking forward to more of what we'd already seen from Webber's two successful loan spells at the club. Perfect alongside the strength of Dyer, or the bravery of Helguson. Linking up with his United teammate Jimmy Davis, who also brought with him not a little pace and trickery. This season was going to be fun!

Except that it didn't work out like that. Our attack did not do what it said on the tin. Scoring goals was very much a problem. Was it the death of his close friend, Jimmy Davis, which stopped Danny fulfilling expectations? The effects of the pin in his leg, as a result of an injury suffered the previous season? The general lack of cutting edge offered by a Davis-less frontline? For some reason, it just didn't work. Probably for all these reasons. We would see plenty of twisting and turning, and no little effort from our young star. But he was generally a pale shadow of what we had seen before and what we expected to see again.

There were exceptions, of course. At Crewe, he scored a splendid winner in an excellent team display. At home to Rotherham it suddenly seemed to click that we had a pacy striker who, given the right through ball, would be a menace to any central defenders. Again, he scored the winner. But somehow, moments such as these failed to ignite the sort of form we so desperately wanted - and, increasingly, needed.

Danny's season ended prematurely due to injury. Which leads us to where we are now. Jimmy Davis' death, while no less tragic, was a year ago, and they say that time is a great healer; the pin is no longer in his leg. And the general potency of our attacking play? Well, we'll see.

We've seen Danny Webber's type before. An exciting, pacy forward, seemingly with the world at his feet. Think back - Rod Thomas, Kevin Phillips, David Connolly, Wayne Andrews, Tommy Smith, Bruce Dyer, Anthony McNamee, to name but a few. Hameur Bouazza's another one. Young players that can bring a crowd to its feet. But how often does it work out as it's supposed to? Of the players mentioned, only Phillips has really achieved great things in the game (although Connolly has achieved great things in his head), and he doesn't really belong in this list anyway; a hundred-metre race between these guys at their quickest would probably see Super Kev bringing up the rear.

So you have to look beyond the pace. What else does Danny Webber have? He has control, certainly. That puts him ahead of Andrews and Smith. He has humility, and a willingness to learn. One up on Connolly, then. But really, Danny Webber has everything, except, maybe, a consistently cool finish. He really should make it. He should have a career waiting for him in the top flight (whatever they're calling it when he gets there). But he needs to prove himself. His talent is not in question. But his ability to use his talent effectively, consistently, for an entire nine-month season, on the lush green carpet of the Stadium of Light and the swirling mid-winter winds of the Withdean Stadium, has yet to be seen. Too often, Danny will disappear from a game for a while. For the whole game, sometimes. He needs to impose his talent on the game. He needs to make himself a part of it, whatever everyone else is or isn't doing.

So, supposing his future is as bright as we all hope - and many of us believe - it to be, how much of it will be at Watford? Ah, well that's always the snag, isn't it? Danny Webber is very much the sort of player that will be snapped up by a predator as soon as he hits a good run of form. I hope he'll be with us for some time yet, but being realistic, we know where we stand in the pecking order; as much as we can entice a Paul Mayo from the likes of Lincoln City, we can lose a Danny Webber to a bigger fish. So just enjoy him. Enjoy the fact that this could - should - just be the start of an excellent career. Enjoy the goals - however many - and the twisting runs. Enjoy the fact that this talented young man wants to be playing for Watford. Not Nottingham Forest, not Manchester United reserves, but Watford.

And support him. Be patient with him. Encourage him. For while I wouldn't say this is his make - or - break season, he knows that he has to prove himself sooner rather than later. I've got a feeling that, with some hard work, perseverance and a lot more luck than he's had so far, this could be a very special season indeed for Danny Webber. Let's hope so. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.

Mike Smart
Last updated: August 2004