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Gone but not forgotten:
Kevin Phillips
Position: Striker
From: Baldock Town - £10,000 - December 1994
Record: Played: 58(6) Scored: 25
To: Sunderland - £325,000 - July 1997
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was (and always will be): Super Kev

I write this with an extremely heavy heart.

There were players that we expected to leave during the summer - Kevin Miller, David Connolly, Colin Simpson - and I dare say that there were various players that we hoped would leave during the summer. You wouldn't find Kevin Phillips in either list.

I wrote in my profile of David Connolly that we should judge players not on their decision to leave but on their performances while under contract. This is the perfect example. Kevin Phillips owes us nothing at all - even bearing in mind his injury-troubled two years, he's scored virtually a goal every two games; he's conducted himself with dignity during the transfer negotiations; he's returned a handsome profit on the original deal that brought him from Baldock Town (the fee could rise to £625,000 depending on appearances and promotion). And now he's moved on, we should wish him well.

None of which means that I'm not gutted to see him leave Watford. Ever since injuries forced him into the first team towards the end of the 1994/95 season, he's been a crowd favourite.

At that time, he was an unknown, plucked from non-league football for a miniscule fee - one of Roeder's bargain basement transfers that looked to have come to nothing as Phillips failed to score for the reserves. Suddenly, though, he was scoring with abandon in the Football League, netting goals from all angles (headers, close range shots, lobs, one-on-ones) and rapidly becoming a Vic Road end cult hero. A vital equaliser at Kenilworth Road, rounding the keeper with ridiculous confidence, sealed his fate - as he was interviewed for TV after the final whistle, the entire away following remained to sing his name.

Those were his finest moments. He was an astonishing player at that time - aside from the clinical finishing (it was a long time before I saw Kevin Phillips waste a clear-cut chance - even now, his ability to get an effort on target in the most difficult circumstances remains one of his finest assets), his all-round creative contribution to the side was faultless. Added to that was a seemingly boundless enthusiasm for the whole escapade - understandable, since he'd been stacking shelves just a few months earlier, but still lovely to watch.

It couldn't last, sadly. An impossibly lengthy foot injury disrupted his last two seasons at Watford, restricting him to too few appearances. As a result, he was never as sharp, never as totally alert and buzzing as he was in those first games. There were still frequent glimpses of his brilliance and, thankfully, he didn't lose the knack of scoring against Luton but there was always something missing. Even at the end of last season, after scoring a superb hat-trick of poached goals against Bristol City, his form tailed off to the point where his frustration led to a sending off for a ludicrously crude challenge at Wrexham. As has been suggested by Kenny Jackett, a full pre-season training schedule may well prove to be the solution.

He is good enough. There are things he must work on - his movement sometimes isn't all it could be and he has to stay clear of injuries - but the basic qualities are all there. Besides, he's already proved that he can score goals in the First Division so there's at least a season's worth of familiar territory ahead of him.

I love the guy. It's rare that such talent is coupled with eagerness and willingness to work hard. Those things have earnt him his big chance at a club that must have a good chance of promotion to the Premiership next season - I hope he takes it because, much as I'd want to see him back at the Vic one day, he deserves that success.