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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Gone but not forgotten:
Marcus Gayle
 
Position: Centre-something.
From: Glasgow Rangers - 900,000 - August 2001
Record: Played: 102(13) Scored: 9
To: Brentford - free tranfer - March 2005
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Improbable

Of the avalanche of departures during the week before Easter 2005, that of Marcus Gayle was the least acknowledged and, but for the fact that he had been moved out in the absence of a team manager, the least surprising. A bit of a shame, in both respects.

It's easy to forget that whilst the mind's eye conjures up the faces of Vega, Issa, Blondeau and Hughes when reflecting on Gianluca Vialli's disastrous reign, there was only one boo boy at the time - at least until the seams came apart and certain of Vialli's other signings flounced off in a sulk. Marcus Gayle, signed from Glasgow Rangers where he'd spent an unhappy five months, cut a largely pathetic figure during that campaign. Seemingly employed as a target man, he seemed singularly unhappy with his back to goal and never convinced. If there was anything remarkable about his failure in hindsight, it was that whilst some of Vialli's signings seemed to suffer from an excess of self-confidence, Gayle's seemed to wilt with every passing game. We weren't sympathetic - the club had paid for and expected more.

Come the summer, and with it turmoil. By the time pre-season came, Vialli and many of his recruits had gone and the general assumption seemed to be that Marcus had gone with them, an afterthought. Until he made a rumoured but unprecedented reappearance at centre back against Spurs during Gibbsy's second testimonial. There he stayed all season, his lack of experience in this position less and less evident as the campaign progressed. Always strong in the air, his positional sense improved to the point where it became a challenge to BSaD reporters to find synonyms for "imperious". A lingering image is of Gayle swooping in and extending a leg to contemptuously rid some baffled opponent of possession. Whilst Stephen Glass's free kick is the defining image of the Cup Quarter-Final win over Burnley, Gayle's complete victory in his personal duel with Gareth Taylor was the most significant battle. An improbable but richly deserved "Player of the Season" award followed.

After which it all went downhill, really, albeit slowly as his form largely held out throughout the start of the following campaign. By Christmas, however, we were being reminded of just why Gayle's recruitment had been amongst the silliest of Vialli's signings. You don't spend close to a million pounds on someone who's nearly thirty-one, whatever division you're in - even now, it's worth noting that of the fifty-plus players who moved to or from an English club for as much money between June 2004 and Gayle's departure, only one was as old as he was when he signed for the Hornets. His age was evident before injuries began to frequently interrupt and ultimately terminate his Watford career.

His last few cameo performances came from the bench, thrown on as a forward once more in futile attempts to rescue points at West Ham, Stoke and Coventry. Improbably, he outlasted Vialli's replacement, if only by two days, and as the last of the signings of the summer of 2001 to depart he closes one aspect of the legacy of Ray Lewington's predecessor, who with comic timing in the same week blamed financial problems for his own failure at Vicarage Road.

Gayle's honesty and hard work saved his recruitment from being as disastrous as that of other signings of the time. For that, and for his astonishing form during 2002-03, he deserved more than just slipping quietly out of a side door whilst yet more chaos reigned around him. Good luck Marcus, you've earned it.

Matt Rowson