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Gone but not forgotten:
Micah Hyde
Position: Midfielder
From: Cambridge United - 150,000 - July 1997
Record: Played: 267(19) Scored: 28
To: ??? - free transfer - May 2004
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: Irreplaceable

Five years on, the end of an era. Definitively, undoubtedly.

Of course, you could justifiably argue that the era that peaked with tearful, joyous victory at Wembley ended much sooner. Perhaps with a season's worth of Premiership defeats, although my memories of Middlesbrough and elsewhere say otherwise; perhaps with Graham Taylor's departure, or with the apparent disintegration of the squad that prompted his decision; perhaps with the appointment of Luca Vialli as his replacement, and the inevitable but bungled clear-out that followed; perhaps, ultimately, with the financial crisis that more than wiped out the gains of 1999.

Perhaps with all or some of those things. But certainly, unarguably, with the departure of Micah Hyde.

It's probably not so surprising that only one member of the side that took us to the top flight will still be at the club when pre-season training starts in a week or so. Alec Chamberlain has begun to define his own era, embracing particular moments and yet somehow above and beyond them. As for the rest...well, that's football, post-Bosman style. But we would've expected those players to have had a greater impact, here or elsewhere.

We thought that it'd be a launchpad for a few illustrious careers, yet only Paul Robinson currently belongs to a Premiership club...and, more startlingly, you have to look fairly hard to find anyone else who's still playing regular first team football at a more familiar level. It didn't work out as any of us had hoped, in short...and while that does nothing to lessen the value of the memories of 31st May 1999 (go on, treat yourself), it's still a bloody shame. That was a great side.

And it had a great midfield. Wright-Johnson-Hyde-Kennedy. Such balance and harmony, such perfect equilibrium. That was Graham Taylor's genius, in essence...for, although they were each fine players in their own right, these were not signings in isolation, but pieces of a jigsaw...and the addition of an erratic youth product who'd suddenly found his way completed the picture. They just fitted, their natural styles covered all the fundamentals, and the result was as good as anything we'll see. It's a testament not only to the manager and his masterplan but to the collective spirit in the dressing room that these were the definitive moments of so many careers...Robert Page, Steve Palmer, Darren Bazeley, Nick Wright, Peter Kennedy, Richard Johnson, Tommy Mooney, Michel Ngonge, Allan Smart, Alon Hazan. And, yes, Micah Hyde.

For some, savage injuries prevented further potential triumphs. For others, there was perhaps a crucial lack of true, top class quality that had previously been disguised by membership of a squad that was so much greater than the sum of its parts. For others still, there were screws to come loose. But for the subject of this profile...well, it's much harder to explain. In this context, "enigmatic" is a word often wrongly used, to describe players too stupid, lazy or pissed to be bothered to define their careers more precisely. And yet Micah Hyde was truly enigmatic. Quietly, brilliantly, frustratingly, a law unto himself.

The statistics speak volumes, actually. Because, for all that he was often accused of being wildly inconsistent and (somewhat inconsistently, as it happens) of only hitting peak form during British Summer Time, for all that he could drive you absolutely bloody nuts, he played a lot of games. More than forty appearances in four of his seven seasons at Vicarage Road, less than thirty in only one. And yet he must've been an almost constant source of anguish for every manager, desperately trying to coax the best out of their star player...and they'd have surely dropped him, if it wasn't for the fact that when Micah Hyde played well, Watford played well...and that couldn't happen if he was on the bench.

It was a debate that rumbled around throughout his stay, yet was easily solved by one essential truth - for sheer talent, touch, vision, control, influence, there was hardly ever anyone to touch him, let alone replace him, at this club or in the whole division. In the mood, Micah Hyde could be utterly imperious, a footballer of dazzling perfection. He could pull the game this way or that, tugging it around as if by some kind of rope and pulley system...buying himself a yard or two with that so familiar now-you-see-it trick, teasing passes into the forwards or across to the wingers, then waiting for the ball to come back under his spell. It was bloody magical, and you won't know how much you'll miss it until next season kicks off.

Crucially, though, there was a touch of steel here, a sharp edge that enabled him to hold his own in a midfield battle. His best football was produced alongside Richard Johnson, true...but that was never because the Australian was fighting his battles for him, merely that he provided a weighty, solid anchor that allowed Micah Hyde to roam more freely. Unlike many others of comparable skill, Hyde could stand up for himself and repeatedly showed a startling ability to impose himself on matches that others would've disappeared within. My memory of Alon Hazan was that, upon each promotion, his admirers would claim that he'd be more at home at the higher level, where the game was less physical and a little more space could be found. Not so for Micah Hyde, who appeared at home at every level.

But he should've been at home - permanently - in the Premiership. Even now, after watching him for seven seasons, it's impossible to find a real, tangible reason why that hasn't happened. He has absolutely every attribute...except, somehow, they're a bit jumbled up. Like I say, enigmatic...because Micah Hyde has never appeared to have an attitude problem in the traditional, tantrum-throwing sense. Nor has he seemed to be a lazy fool in the Craig Ramage sense. It would be easy to say that he doesn't care, except that I have the impression that he's simply less interested in making empty gestures for the sake of appearances. As successive managers have discovered, it's nothing that you can put your finger on...but it has undeniably prevented him from reaching the heights that his talent merits.

As he leaves for pastures better paid, his legacy ought to be enormous...and yet, in the main, it still begins and ends with those first two years under Graham Taylor, alongside Richard Johnson. When Micah Hyde played well, Watford played well...and yet Watford didn't play well for much of the rest of the time. To blame him alone would be hugely unfair, of course...but it wouldn't be hugely unfair to suggest that he might've done more to change matters.

There are countless explanations, and I never quite bought into the widespread belief that he was merely inconsistent - it's the nature of the First Division that we see inconsistency every week, and Micah Hyde was less erratic than many. He was, however, unreliable...and it's a subtle, but crucial, distinction. Often, it seemed as if Hyde, such a master of the game on the pitch, lost the battle in his mind. It wasn't so much a lack of concentration, as a disruptive concentration on something else...almost as if he had a mental image of the player that he wanted to be, yet couldn't quite translate it into reality. When everything was in harmony, Micah Hyde made football look utterly effortless; at other times, he seemed to make it more complicated than it needed to be.

Sadly, his last season summed up far too much. In a difficult campaign that required the senior players to take responsibility, his influence was too rarely felt. He was rarely shocking, rarely inadequate...but he did little to change anything, to be part of the solution. For obscure reasons, he was never a prolific goal-scorer, but just one in thirty-seven appearances was a plainly inadequate return - he only scored one more in fifty appearances during the 1998/99 season, but the need for his contribution wasn't so great back then. It became clear that Ray Lewington's view of his role (attacking midfielder, with a brief to get into the penalty area) was very different from his own (play-making midfielder, pulling the strings from deeper), and that he was fulfilling neither. In one last revival of the glory years, he finally rediscovered his form in the run-in, with Gavin Mahon in Richard Johnson's boots...and it was momentarily marvellous, a final reminder that we won't see Micah Hyde's like for some time, if ever.

Because there can be no replacement. Not for our budget, nor for ten times that amount. When we look back at Micah Hyde, we'll have to remember that he could be desperately frustrating, that he could've been and done so much more. But then we'll also have to remember that the frustration only comes from the knowledge that he was a spectacularly good footballer. Whatever else, never forget his best, when he could dart and flit about the midfield like a dancer lost in the music, when the whole game seemed to be played to his tune. As if you could possibly forget, for only a handful have left Vicarage Road with such vivid, distinctive trademarks as Micah Hyde's....

The ball at his feet, left in clear view to tempt an on-rushing opponent. Then rolled away with the underside of the boot just as that opponent stretches out his leg to swipe at thin air. Turning his back on his victim, then a touch to clear it from under his feet, and he's gone...

But not forgotten.