Position: Centre-back. Probably.
From: Youth Team
Record: Played: 10(4) Scored: 0
To: ??? - free transfer - May 2002
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Written out.
Anyone who watches soap operas will know the drill. Storylines appear, dissipate and vanish like cheap fireworks on bonfire night, characters are introduced and stay for anything between twenty minutes and twenty years before being killed off/moved abroad/imprisoned/launched into a brief pop career.
The abruptness of a character's departure, it seems safe to assume, is not unrelated to the grace of the actor/actress's departure from the cast. Sometimes these things are well-planned and elegantly choreographed; less frequently, the character develops an unheralded desire to trek across the Andes and vanishes into the ether within a single episode.
The plummet of James Panayi's fortunes at Vicarage Road smacks rather of the latter state of affairs. Having made his debut during the Premiership season and then become a more frequent member of the back-four during 2000/01, the scene seemed set for Panayi to establish himself as one of this particular soap opera's best-loved characters.
Instead, in comes a new director and Mr.Panayi's career comes to a shuddering halt - relegated to the incidental "man passing in street"/Big John role that saw him make just three substitute appearances in his final season.
In a less extraordinary year, Panayi's demise might have attracted more comment. With no shortage of surprises throughout the season, however, we were left to occasionally wonder why, with two high-profile rebels and a number of injuries freeing up defensive slots, the youngster hadn't been given a run.
A clue as to the manager's intentions came when Panayi was allowed to travel to Colchester for a trial in their reserves. That the Us sent the player, once reputedly rated a future international by Graham Taylor, swiftly back whence he came offered a suggestion that the turn of events might be more than just one of Luca Vialli's baffling decisions.
Panayi's final cameo came in the last away game of the 2001/02 season, when with Stephen Glass setting new injury-speed records Panayi played virtually the entire ninety minutes having come on as a substitute. That Panayi was named on the bench at all, for the first time in eight months, was something of a surprise, but perhaps Luca was trying to explain something.
Whereas Panayi's first season in the first team squad had shown us a strong but lithe defender, the impostor who came off the bench was at least twice the size - and half the speed - of anything we remembered.
Something of a chicken/egg question presents itself. Did Panayi's fall from favour contribute to his slump in standards, or was it the other way around? Either way, as Panayi's final and short-lived BSaD profile suggested, a lot of talent is being wasted.
As regards the future, Panayi's new afro and appallingly untidy beard would seem to suggest that either imprisonment or the brief pop career are viable options from the previous list. Which is a shame, as there's a good defender in there somewhere.