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Gone but not forgotten:
Michel Ngonge
Position: Striker
From: Samsunspor, Turkey - free transfer - June 1998
Record: Played: 36(20) Scored: 11
To: Queens Park Rangers - £50,000 - December 2000
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Worthy of praise

What will you remember about Michel Ngonge? The explosive pace? The insanely random finishing - sometimes viciously clinical, more often wastefully wayward? The free header from six yards against Crystal Palace, which he mis-directed so badly that it hit Tommy Mooney, standing next to him, and ended up in the back of the net? The vital, but often forgotten, goal against Birmingham in the playoffs? The deft lob against Wimbledon at home? The outrageous misses against Wimbledon at Selhurst? Nothing at all?

Personally, I'll remember him for the effort that he put in. He tried so damn hard to transcend his evident limitations, to be whatever we needed him to be. Whether it was as an out-and-out goalscorer or a strong target man, you could argue that he didn't quite fit the mould. You'd probably be right. However, you'd also be missing the point.

Although it may seem obtuse, his performances in the Premiership won me over. As a team, that season was supposed to be about ambition. It wasn't about listening to anyone who said that we weren't "good enough". On the contrary, it was about striving to be better, to improve ourselves.

More than almost anyone else, Michel Ngonge was visibly trying to match up to what was required of him...and, with so many other strikers injured, a lot was required of him. Whether he was brilliant - it's worth recalling that he did produce some magical moments - or absolute pants, there was always a sense that he was reaching upwards rather than looking downwards. For that, I greatly admired him.

In the end, though, it wasn't enough. Even back in the First Division, he was usually the first to give way when the substitutions were made. When other strikers, all younger and mostly more reliable, were fit and in form, he inevitably found himself towards the back of the queue.

Yet, even when his eventual departure became a certainty, you could never assume that he was completely finished at Watford. Having been loaned to Huddersfield at the end of the 1999/2000 season, he was unexpectedly back in the squad for the start of the next campaign...and, after coming on as a half-time substitute at the McAlpine, he roared majestically through the opposition defence to set up Tommy Smith for the winning goal. It was his final significant contribution, and a fine way to bow out.

He deserves an ovation when we play QPR. Perhaps the history of the club may not have been dramatically altered when we signed him. Nevertheless, he was an important, often unrecognised, part of a team that did create a period of astonishing change. He served us well.