Gerard Deulofeu, from his time at the La Masia academy to his spells at various clubs across Europe, has been perennially hailed as having incredible potential.
There was even some thought after Neymar’s departure from Barcelona that Deulofeu could play a major role in replacing him, featuring regularly in the team until December.
This hasn’t really worked out so far, and the Spaniard’s career has been one of outstanding moments, rather than outstanding seasons.
Now 24-years-old, Deulofeu is running out of chances.
He has gone from Barcelona to Everton, to Sevilla, back to Everton again, to AC Milan, back to Barcelona and now to Watford, flitting back and forth between clubs.
Watford have purchased him and this is his chance to spend some time at one club and bring at least some of that massive potential to fruition.
A chance of consistency
By far Deulofeu’s biggest problem is his severe lack of consistency.
His style of play is not very conducive to it, as he has very much been an impact player throughout his career. He can be a nightmare for defenders to play against, with his lightning speed and dribbling ability.
The issue, however, is the tendency to forget the Deulofeu is on the pitch. He will do something incredible, something magical, only to follow that up with complete noninvolvement for the next 30 minutes, sometimes even the rest of the game.
Those moments of magic have not been coming anywhere near regularly enough.
This has translated into his game time. In the last five seasons, he has only played 90 minutes of league football 21 times. The vast majority of those came during his time at AC Milan, and last season he did not last a full game once in the league.
His fitness usually seems to be an issue, but he is often regarded as a luxury player. A club cannot afford to leave a player on the pitch that does not guarantee a certain level of performance.
It is a bit of a football cliché, but Deulofeu does not offer consistent ‘7 out of 10’ performances. Rather, once every few weeks he would dominate the highlights, but will then fail to make any impression for a number of games. It is no surprise that when he does make the starting XI he regularly gets substituted off.
Watford offers a chance for Deulofeu to change his reputation as purely an impact player. He does not have a lot of competition on the wings, with Richarlison the only other standout winger at the club.
He can play on both wings and that flexibility will put him in good stead to play regularly.
He needs a good pre-season, and realistically needs to be fitter than he has been in the past. He is not in the Spanish World Cup squad, which means he will be fresh and ready to go for the return of club football.
If his pre-season is successful, Deulofeu could be an inspired signing and, given time, Vicarage Road could be a successful stomping ground.
Deulofeu needs Javi Gracia
Now, Watford’s history of manager employment suggests that it would be completely unsurprising if Gracia did not last for the whole season. However, if Gracia is given some time at Watford he could certainly improve Deulofeu massively.
With his arrival at Watford, much was made of his meticulous nature, his precise attention to detail. This could be exactly what Deulofeu needs, a disciplined coach, one who would, in a sense, take away some of his individuality and integrate him into a system with a very specific role.
The question is whether Deulofeu would buy into it.
It won’t be easy, he may have to give up a bit of his creativity, and he may have to do more defensive work than he has previously had to, but if he allows a manager like Gracia to work on him, Deulofeu would be better for it.
The proof is in the Milanese pudding
Deulofeu’s half a season in Italy was his best ever.
Montella clearly trusted him, and he made 16 starts, chipping in with four goals and three assists. An almost one-in-two ratio of goal involvement to games is by far his best return, and with Suso he made AC Milan’s flanks extremely dangerous.
What was noticeable was not so much that his game changed at Milan, but rather he did what he was good at far more often.
During his time in Italy, he had the third most successful dribbles in Serie A, and that increase in end product made him un-droppable. No wonder he played so many games there.
He probably would have stayed there, were it not for Barcelona’s buyback clause in his Everton contract, and Deulofeu’s desire to prove himself at his boyhood club.
Since he has left the San Siro it really hasn’t worked, but his time in Italy proved that Deulofeu can be more than unfulfilled potential.
A great player’s last chance
As said at the beginning, this is it.
He is no longer an exciting teenager, but rather a player already halfway through his career. He has lacked a stable home for his football, and he needs to make Watford that place.
Last season at Watford was tough for him. A fractured foot saw him miss six Premier League games and he found it difficult to regain his place after that, in a tumultuous season for the Hornets.
If Javi Gracia stays for at least the full season, if Deulofeu has a good pre-season and gets to play 90 minutes regularly, the sky is the limit.
Everton and AC Milan in particular know this already; when Deulofeu is good he is unplayable. A full season of a consistent Deulofeu is one hell of a prospect.
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