From: Cambridge United - £150,000 - July 1997
Record: Played: 267(19) Scored: 28
To: ??? - free transfer - May 2004
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Irreplaceable
Five years on, the end of an era. Definitively, undoubtedly.
Of course, you could justifiably argue that the era that peaked with tearful, joyous victory at Wembley ended
much sooner. Perhaps with a season's worth of Premiership defeats, although my memories of Middlesbrough
and elsewhere say otherwise; perhaps with Graham Taylor's departure, or with the apparent disintegration of the squad
that prompted his decision; perhaps with the appointment of Luca Vialli as his replacement, and the inevitable
but bungled clear-out that followed; perhaps, ultimately, with the financial crisis that more than wiped out the
gains of 1999.
Perhaps with all or some of those things. But certainly, unarguably, with the departure of Micah Hyde.
It's probably not so surprising that only one member of the side that took us to the top flight will still
be at the club when pre-season training starts in a week or so. Alec Chamberlain has begun to define his own
era, embracing particular moments and yet somehow above and beyond them. As for the rest...well, that's football, post-Bosman style. But
we would've expected those players to have had a greater impact, here or elsewhere.
We thought that it'd be a launchpad for a few illustrious careers, yet only Paul Robinson currently belongs to a Premiership club...and,
more startlingly, you have to look fairly hard to find anyone else who's still playing regular first team
football at a more familiar level. It didn't work out as any of us had hoped, in short...and while that
does nothing to lessen the value of the memories of 31st May 1999 (go on, treat yourself), it's still a
bloody shame. That was a great side.
And it had a great midfield. Wright-Johnson-Hyde-Kennedy. Such balance and harmony, such perfect
equilibrium. That was Graham Taylor's genius, in essence...for, although they were each fine players in
their own right, these were not signings in isolation, but pieces of a jigsaw...and the addition of an erratic
youth product who'd suddenly found his way completed the picture. They just fitted, their natural
styles covered all the fundamentals, and the result was as good as anything we'll see. It's a testament not
only to the manager and his masterplan but to the collective spirit in the dressing room that these were the
definitive moments of so many careers...Robert Page, Steve Palmer, Darren Bazeley, Nick Wright, Peter Kennedy,
Richard Johnson, Tommy Mooney, Michel Ngonge, Allan Smart, Alon Hazan. And, yes, Micah Hyde.
For some, savage injuries prevented further potential triumphs. For others, there was perhaps a crucial
lack of true, top class quality that had previously been disguised by membership of a squad that was so much
greater than the sum of its parts. For others still, there were screws to come loose. But for the subject
of this profile...well, it's much harder to explain. In this context, "enigmatic" is a word often wrongly
used, to describe players too stupid, lazy or pissed to be bothered to define their careers more precisely.
And yet Micah Hyde was truly enigmatic. Quietly, brilliantly, frustratingly, a law unto himself.
The statistics speak volumes, actually. Because, for all that he was often accused of being wildly
inconsistent and (somewhat inconsistently, as it happens) of only hitting peak form during British Summer
Time, for all that he could drive you absolutely bloody nuts, he played a lot of games. More than
forty appearances in four of his seven seasons at Vicarage Road, less than thirty in only one. And yet he
must've been an almost constant source of anguish for every manager, desperately trying to coax the best out
of their star player...and they'd have surely dropped him, if it wasn't for the fact that when Micah Hyde
played well, Watford played well...and that couldn't happen if he was on the bench.
It was a debate that rumbled around throughout his stay, yet was easily solved by one essential truth - for
sheer talent, touch, vision, control, influence, there was hardly ever anyone to touch him, let alone replace
him, at this club or in the whole division. In the mood, Micah Hyde could be utterly imperious, a footballer
of dazzling perfection. He could pull the game this way or that, tugging it around as if by some kind of rope
and pulley system...buying himself a yard or two with that so familiar now-you-see-it trick, teasing passes
into the forwards or across to the wingers, then waiting for the ball to come back under his spell. It was
bloody magical, and you won't know how much you'll miss it until next season kicks off.
Crucially, though, there was a touch of steel here, a sharp edge that enabled him to hold his own in a midfield
battle. His best football was produced alongside Richard Johnson, true...but that was never because the
Australian was fighting his battles for him, merely that he provided a weighty, solid anchor that allowed
Micah Hyde to roam more freely. Unlike many others of comparable skill, Hyde could stand up for himself and
repeatedly showed a startling ability to impose himself on matches that others would've disappeared within. My
memory of Alon Hazan was that, upon each promotion, his admirers would claim that he'd be more at home at
the higher level, where the game was less physical and a little more space could be found. Not so for Micah
Hyde, who appeared at home at every level.
But he should've been at home - permanently - in the Premiership. Even now, after watching him
for seven seasons, it's impossible to find a real, tangible reason why that hasn't happened. He has absolutely
every attribute...except, somehow, they're a bit jumbled up. Like I say, enigmatic...because Micah
Hyde has never appeared to have an attitude problem in the traditional, tantrum-throwing sense. Nor has he
seemed to be a lazy fool in the Craig Ramage sense. It would be easy to say that he doesn't care, except that
I have the impression that he's simply less interested in making empty gestures for the sake of appearances.
As successive managers have discovered, it's nothing that you can put your finger on...but it has undeniably
prevented him from reaching the heights that his talent merits.
As he leaves for pastures better paid, his legacy ought to be enormous...and yet, in the main, it still begins
and ends with those first two years under Graham Taylor, alongside Richard Johnson. When Micah Hyde played
well, Watford played well...and yet Watford didn't play well for much of the rest of the time. To blame him
alone would be hugely unfair, of course...but it wouldn't be hugely unfair to suggest that he might've done
more to change matters.
There are countless explanations, and I never quite bought into the widespread belief that he was merely
inconsistent - it's the nature of the First Division that we see inconsistency every week, and Micah Hyde was
less erratic than many. He was, however, unreliable...and it's a subtle, but crucial, distinction.
Often, it seemed as if Hyde, such a master of the game on the pitch, lost the battle in his mind. It wasn't so
much a lack of concentration, as a disruptive concentration on something else...almost as if he had a mental
image of the player that he wanted to be, yet couldn't quite translate it into reality. When everything was
in harmony, Micah Hyde made football look utterly effortless; at other times, he seemed to make it more complicated
than it needed to be.
Sadly, his last season summed up far too much. In a difficult campaign that required the senior players to
take responsibility, his influence was too rarely felt. He was rarely shocking, rarely inadequate...but he
did little to change anything, to be part of the solution. For obscure reasons, he was never a prolific
goal-scorer, but just one in thirty-seven appearances was a plainly inadequate return - he only scored one
more in fifty appearances during the 1998/99 season, but the need for his contribution wasn't so great back
then. It became clear that Ray Lewington's view of his role (attacking midfielder, with a brief to get into
the penalty area) was very different from his own (play-making midfielder, pulling the strings from deeper),
and that he was fulfilling neither. In one last revival of the glory years, he finally rediscovered his form
in the run-in, with Gavin Mahon in Richard Johnson's boots...and it was momentarily marvellous, a final reminder
that we won't see Micah Hyde's like for some time, if ever.
Because there can be no replacement. Not for our budget, nor for ten times that amount. When we look back at
Micah Hyde, we'll have to remember that he could be desperately frustrating, that he could've been and done so much
more. But then we'll also have to remember that the frustration only comes from the knowledge that he was a
spectacularly good footballer. Whatever else, never forget his best, when he could dart and flit about
the midfield like a dancer lost in the music, when the whole game seemed to be played to his tune. As if you
could possibly forget, for only a handful have left Vicarage Road with such vivid, distinctive trademarks
as Micah Hyde's....
The ball at his feet, left in clear view to tempt an on-rushing opponent. Then rolled away with the underside
of the boot just as that opponent stretches out his leg to swipe at thin air. Turning his back on his victim,
then a touch to clear it from under his feet, and he's gone...
But not forgotten.