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Gone but not forgotten:
Stephen Glass
Position: Midfielder
From: Newcastle United - free transfer - July 2001
Record: Played: 60(9) Scored: 5
To: ??? - out of contract - May 2003
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Understated

It needn't be a disaster.

The point is that the criteria are the same, whether you're signing a youngster from the Academy or a high profile name from the Premiership. What do they add to the squad? Will they fit into the dressing room? Will they still be useful at a higher or lower level, or will they lose heart if their expectations aren't quickly fulfilled? Of course, you might apply those criteria more strictly for an expensive purchase than when you're taking a chance on a kid...but you can never forget them entirely.

As has been well-documented, someone filed those criteria in the bin at some point during the summer of 2001...and, even leaving aside the financial implications, the result was a disaster. We brought in players who added little or nothing to the squad, fractured the dressing room, and rapidly became disinterested when it was clear that the club wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. Lessons to learn, for all concerned.

But Gianluca Vialli did get it right once or twice, expense or no expense. There was Filippo Galli for a start, memorable as much for his enthusiasm and appetite for a scrap as anything else. There were the Jermaine Pennant and Danny Webber loan signings too - top class players, perhaps, but top class players with a point to prove and a positive, eager attitude. And the benefit of hindsight tells us that Marcus Gayle hasn't turned out to be a waste of money at all, albeit that his Watford career has been revived in a way that no-one (least of all the person who brought him to Watford) could've predicted.

And there was Stephen Glass too. Perhaps the quietest of Vialli's initial signings, yet also - considering Galli's retirement and Gayle's poor first season - the most beneficial to the club. Were it not for one fabulous, vital goal, it's entirely possible that memories of his Watford career would've faded quite quickly, but that doesn't mean that his contribution wasn't consistent, effective and valuable.

He's simply a good footballer. It says much that his place at the club was cemented during his second season under Ray Lewington, and that the process continued even after he was told that his contract wouldn't be renewed for financial reasons. For all that he played with commitment, he was never one of those revolutionary players, the kind that proclaims a cause and demands that others rally around it. As a consequence, he fitted more comfortably into Lewington's squad, becoming part of the team rather than needing to compete as an individual. Considering the circumstances in which he arrived - big-ish name, high wages, and so on - that's somewhat ironic, although it certainly doesn't make him unique.

That isn't to write off his first season, merely to say that it's quite hard to remember anything specific about it. There were many problems, and Stephen Glass was never one of them, a point illustrated by his escape from the (attempted) mid-season cull of the highest earners. Of all the new players, it was easiest to see his appeal - a cultured left-foot, a quick brain, an essential versatility - and yet the need for players to have an impact on a lethargic, doldrums season rather over-shadowed such fine points. Another irony, that a season of continental influence actually made it more difficult to be a connoiseur....

But he found it easier as time went on. Even under the new manager, the glut of midfielders meant that he was rarely able to fill the central berth that seemed likely to suit him best. But, with little competition on the left flank, he made himself at home there, and that constructive, intelligent influence began to be felt rather more. Rarely elaborate but often stylish, he became an integral part of the team that restored pride to the Watford shirt, an excellent balance for the consistency of Neal Ardley on the other wing. There were one or two fine performances at left-back too, filling in for Paul Robinson's suspensions and bringing a more combative spirit to the surface.

His moment of glory was still to come. That it came at the end of the week when he'd been told that his services wouldn't be retained says a great deal, although not as much as the deafening roar of celebration that greeted that marvellously deceptive free kick against Burnley in the FA Cup Quarter-Final. The importance of the occasion meant that it also won "Goal of the Season" - if we're going to quibble, Ardley scored with an even better set piece against Crystal Palace - and the prize extended to both a warm, fond farewell and a permanent place in Watford folklore.

Really, you wonder whether a more demonstrably assertive player would've demanded, taken and scored more free kicks, for Stephen Glass certainly had a knack of outwitting a goalkeeper. But that was his style, in many ways. Quietly influential, gently positive, thoroughly professional.

His most famous goal was a little out of keeping with the rest of his career at Vicarage Road, then. But that time deserved to be crowned by that moment.