From: Paris St Germain - free transfer - November 1999
Record: Played: 7 Scored: 2
To: Le Havre - undisclosed fee - January 2000
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Slightly scary
A good bit of business, all in all.
Xavier Gravelaine arrived at Vicarage Road as a short-term solution to the desperate lack of goals that had seen the
Hornets fail to capitalise on a positive start to life in the Premiership. His reputation was dubious - talented but
temperamental was the general synopsis of a career that appeared to take in spells with dozens of clubs - and, on
reflection, probably justified. Yet within two months and just seven appearances, Le Havre were prepared to
pay a reportedly considerable fee to take him back to France, even though his contract only ran until the end of
His involvement was only sporadic - partly due to lack of service, partly due to the suspension following an absurd
dismissal against Sunderland - but it was frequently decisive. When positive things did happen during
his brief stay, you usually didn't have to look very far to find his input.
And that's the key. Superficially, Gravelaine was not the kind of footballer that I greatly admire. He was an almost stereotypical continental flair player, huge ability co-habiting with obvious arrogance, exaggerated and melodramatic body language, and a tendency
to fall over in moments of difficulty. Self-belief was clearly not a problem.
Yet he was able to translate those dubious qualities into influence on the pitch, instantly elevating himself above
the massed ranks of flash-but-pointless foreign imports cluttering up the Premiership. On the occasions when we did more than
welly the ball over his head, our forward play was immediately and definitely stamped with his class. He was more than a
beautiful footballer, he was a beautiful and productive footballer. All that, and mad, scary eyes too. Cool.
With the signing of Heidar Helguson, we briefly but thrillingly had a lethal striking partnership. Not enough to compensate
for our appallingly leaky defence, perhaps, but certainly good reason to look forward to the remaining games of an apparently
doomed season. Impending relegation is easier to take if you're watching players who can make you gasp, and Xavier Gravelaine
could certainly do that. The thought that we'd probably not see his like again for some time was a
sobering one, but we still had three months to savour.
In the end, though, we cashed all that in. Whatever the factors behind that decision - the offer from Le Havre, the high wage
bill, the sulkiness of the player - it's impossible not to feel an irrational, childish sense of betrayal. Part of me is sensible enough
to understand and approve of a good bit of business, part of me feels like stamping my foot and jumping up and down and wailing "I WANT MY XAVGRAV! I WANT MY XAVGRAV!"
until I get my way.
As usual, the sensible part of me wins. But only just.