Position: Wide Midfielder
From: Manchester United - on loan - January 2006
Record: Played: 17(2) Scored: 3
WFC Total: Played: 27(5) Scored: 4
To: Manchester United - end of loan - May 2006
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: A "young David Beckham". For an afternoon.
When you look back on your career as a footballer, I reckon the first thing you remember is THE goal. You know the one… it's the overhead kick under the twin towers of Wembley that sends your team into the Premiership for the first time. It's the goal where you control it, flick it over the head of the defender, and volley it into the opposite corner all in one flowing moment (sit back down Mr. Gascoigne, this one was a twelve year-old me at the kids' club on holiday!). It's the one where the ball comes to you on the half way line, on the half-volley, and you nonchalantly put your foot through it and it sails in, just beyond the outstretched keeper. Yes, that's the one you're going to remember, isn't it Mr. Eagles?
Back in April 2005, Chris Eagles left us to go back to Manchester United for the first time. In that spell he was a decoration on a poor side. He showed flashes of brilliance, was decent, but not much more. He joined us a boy, and left us a man; toughened up, and ready force his way into the fold at Manchester United…at least, that was how it was supposed to happen.
A few months later, he found himself shipped out to Sheffield Wednesday, where he was, by all accounts, a decoration on a poor side. So, back he came to Watford in January 2006, and played in the FA Cup game against Bolton, and for ninety minutes on a cold January afternoon, he surprised no-one by being a decoration on a poor side.
But that was where the stigma ended. In the league we were no longer the "poor side" of the pre-Betty days. We were actually alright! OK, so we couldn't really defend, but it seemed to be working well. There were probably a few people back then who dared to believe we might even do the unthinkable and, dare I say it…get promoted!
Our league position seemed to hide the fact, however, that we had only won two of our previous nine league games. Much more of this kind of form, and our promotion push may have faltered. It was a tough home game against Stoke that turned it around. We knocked, and knocked and finally our man popped up to score. It wasn't a great game, it certainly wasn't a great goal, but I'd like to think it was the moment that Chris Eagles made his most telling contribution in a Watford shirt. It started a run of six wins in seven league games which all but secured our play-off place, and even had us dreaming of catching Sheffield United and gaining automatic promotion. But that would have been no fun, would it?
It was at Sheffield United where he made his next major impact, crowning a fantastic flowing move with a great finish to set us on the way to one of the most memorable victories of a victorious season. His contribution wasn't finished there though. Hardly endearing himself to the United fans by joining Wednesday earlier in the season, he further turned up the volume dial of the boo-boys by going down rather easily from a David Unsworth "elbow". At this stage the game was in its early stages, and very much in the balance.
It was what I like to call a Premiership fall. The challenge was undoubtedly rash, but having spent two years as the understudy to a certain Cristiano Ronaldo at Man United, our premiership loanee knew exactly how to behave. So down he went, as all to many players in our top flight seem to do, rather dramatically. The inevitable red followed for Unsworth, and we went on to complete a great four-one rout.
After a disappointment against Leeds, we faced relegation "probables" (if I'm being nice) Brighton. I have already mentioned that I believe his winner in the one-nil victory against Stoke was his most important contribution in a Watford shirt. But there was no doubt as to his most memorable. We need a win; we need it desperately to stay in the hunt for automatic promotion. Adie says we can do it…we believe we can do it. But not playing like this. It was difficult to tell for much of that day who were promotion contenders, and who weren't, but one moment of magic gave the final scoreline the expected result.
I'm ashamed to say I wasn't there. Living in Nottingham, and being a poor student isn't exactly conducive to trips down to the south coast at the weekend. However, the fifty-yard half-volley scored by Chris Eagles in that game will ensure that my grandchildren will hear the full story. How I had to travel all the way down to Brighton, and back, by car of all things. That's right, we didn't have hover-boards back in 2006, son! The goal doesn't need explaining much more, I can't do it justice as I wasn't there. But what I do know is that when he looks back on his career, Chris Eagles will remember that moment at least equally as fondly as anything that follows.
He couldn't have possibly done anything to have bettered that. But he could have tried a bit harder, couldn't he? Relatively unconvincing performances followed, and after a flying start to the loan spell, he just didn't look the same player after that goal. It seemed to the fans, and probably to his frustrated teammates that he only really played when he fancied it. And if he didn't fancy it, he strolled about, looking like he didn't even want the ball. He scored a goal which led to the national papers comparing him to a young David Beckham, unfortunately he subsequently performed more like a young Craig Ramage!
So by the time we were celebrating Henderson tucking away a penalty amid euphoria at the Millennium Stadium (well, half of it anyway), poor Chris Eagles was sat on the bench. He still hadn't looked quite tough enough to suit the type of football we demonstrated in the three play-off games, and so found himself demoted to bench-warming duties.
But lets not let that take away from the fact that one day, Chris Eagles will be a Premiership player. Probably not at a Manchester United, or a Chelsea, but at a tidy mid-table club, where he can show the country what he can do. A Charlton, a Bolton, a Middlesbrough….a Watford?