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Gone but not forgotten:
Pierre Issa
Position: Central defender
From: Olympique Marseille - free transfer - September 2001
Record: Played: 15(3) Scored: 1
To: ??? - free transfer - June 2002
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Unforgivable

Sunday 2nd June. As the country prepared for England's World Cup bow later that day, the early risers in my flat settled down to watch South Africa take on Paraguay...or, to be more exact, we wanted to watch Pierre Issa singlehandedly keep the South Americans at bay, thereby raising his transfer value a few notches and attracting a buyer to ease Watford's wage bill. It was always going to be more in hope than expectation, but we didn't imagine that things would go quite so wrong. Within fifteen minutes, he'd been booked for a clumsy challenge; within twenty-five, he was injured and lying on a stretcher (no doubt hoping the bearers had a good grip, but more of that later). His World Cup was over and his last chance to do something constructive for our club was gone.

Back in September last year, Issa arrived on a Bosman from Marseille. Signed as a centre half, it came as something of a shock to see him make his debut in central midfield against West Brom, but as most of Luca's team selections were somewhat erratic to say the least, maybe we should have expected it. I won't dress it up. Issa was shit that day. He was weak in the tackle, gave the ball away easily and the hurly-burly of the Albion side rendered the whole game far too ferocious for him. He looked like a child lost in the woods. The consensus on the way out of the ground was to give the guy a chance, that we'd surely see the real Pierre Issa when he plays in his preferred position.

When he did play at centre half the following midweek at Norwich, that renowned terroriser of defenders, Iwan Roberts, annihilated him. From then on, forwards seemed to have his number. He was easily bundled off the ball time and again...and it wasn't just the old-fashioned bruisers that did it, as was proved by pint-sized Dean Sturridge of Wolves, who effortlessly brushed the big South African aside to set up a goal. For supporters who had watched Page and Palmer's stout efforts in recent years, watching Issa's feeble attempts at defending made you yearn for the recently departed duo, or at least for Vega to start playing better.

The moment Issa will always be remembered for came in the home game with Birmingham. Having dislocated a shoulder, the stretcher-bearers raced on to recover the stricken South African. On their way round behind the Rookery goal, one lost his footing and Issa tumbled to the floor in comical fashion. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry as the clearly distressed defender was hauled back onto the stretcher.

Other highlights of his brief sojourn into Watford's history were very few and far between. There was his only goal for the club, a headed strike against Portsmouth. Even his celebration in front of the Rookery was half-hearted, much like his efforts throughout his short stay. There was even one, heroic defensive display in the Worthington Cup game against Charlton...small wonder he played well, as his national coach and international team mate, Mark Fish, were in the crowd.

As the season progressed, there were some notable improvements in the defence, but apart from that Charlton game, Pierre was not involved in many of the better performances and he quickly became a spare part. When he did play, he looked lost and was still totally unable to deal with the pace or the power of the Nationwide League, just as he had been against WBA. Come January, he played in the heavy reverse at home to Millwall, then spent the Arsenal game plodding around in Thierry Henry's shadow, and then he departed for the African Nations Cup. Though we didn't know it at the time, he also departed from the first team scene.

On his return, he was one of the famous five who were bundled onto the transfer list, which is where the problems really began. He began missing training and turning up late for reserve games. Issa felt his World Cup prospects were being harmed and began to sulk, which was hardly likely to get him a move. When the end of season lap-of-whatever it was took place, he ambled along at the back of the group, gazing at the sky and looking thoroughly bored with the whole business, much as he had looked as a player.

I can forgive anyone who is simply a poor player as long as they try. What was unforgivable was that Issa didn't try, didn't get any better than he was on his debut, didn't care and, more to the point, he spent nine months milking off a large salary. Rumours of his dressing room unpopularity serve to compound the problems further still. Vega will be remembered for his whacking great pay packet, but nobody personifies all that was wrong within the club during the tail-end of last season like Pierre Issa.

Thanks for nothing, Pierre.

Dave Messenger