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Gone but not forgotten:
Paul Okon
Position: Midfielder
From: Middlesbrough - free transfer - January 2002
Record: Played: 14(1) Scored: 0
To: ??? - free transfer - May 2002
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: A master of the sideways pass

It's hard to avoid making the comparison. Paul Okon, whose career peaked with a successful spell at Lazio before injuries and signing for Middlesbrough conspired to send it hurtling downhill, is an Australian midfielder. An Australian midfielder of some standing, indeed.

We already have one of those, of course. That Richard Johnson is far behind Paul Okon in terms of reputation, international appearances and rank, and (such are the times) earning power demonstrates just how unfortunate he has been. While Okon proved himself to be hard-working, tidy and capable in a Watford shirt, those are merely the attributes that we've come to take for granted from Johnson, before considering the long passing, the potent shooting, the ability to play a pivotal role in the most literal sense. It's hard to avoid making the comparison...but there is no comparison.

None of this is Paul Okon's fault, of course. Throughout his brief spell at Vicarage Road, after signing on a short-term contract following his departure from Middlesbrough, he was asked to play a thoroughly unspectacular, unglamourous role...and he played it well enough, in an unspectacular and unglamourous way. Not a player likely to raise many pulse rates, he spent his afternoons as a midfield sweeper, selflessly tidying up other people's mess before rolling a characteristic sideways pass to a waiting colleague. Often, you had to pay very close attention to avoid missing him altogether.

Nevertheless, it was a useful and under-valued contribution, reminiscent of that required of the much-maligned Stephen Hughes earlier in the season. It won him rather more admirers among the coaching and playing staff than in the stands, sure...but you need that, you need people who'll just get on with the job. (Contrary to the popular myth, an entire team of Tommy Mooneys and Paul Robinsons would probably spontaneously combust before half-time, which'd be no good to anyone.) In the right context - that is, a confident, assertive side with plenty of flair and creativity elsewhere - you can imagine that he'd keep things ticking over rather nicely, a kind of midfield metronome.

Indeed, were it not for the all-obliterating cashflow problem created by the collapse of ITV Digital, there would probably be an offer of a longer-term contract on the table already. Which would've been, well, a sensible bit of business, even if there'd have been no need to employ extra staff at the ticket office to cope with a resulting surge in sales for next season. It's still a remote possibility...but the chances are that Paul Okon will be looking to revive his career elsewhere.

I can live with that. Personally, and I know that I'm not alone, I'm quietly praying that there might be another Australian midfielder in the side when August arrives....