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Gone but not forgotten:
Danny Webber
Position: Striker
From: Manchester United - "Nominal" - July 2003
Record: Played: 52(11) Scored: 17
WFC total: Played: 67(13) Scored: 21
To: Sheffield United - 500,000 - May 2005
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: A bonus.

It's difficult not to feel a little underwhelmed.

Much as he had - has - sparkling potential. Much as he turned down a new contract at Manchester United and an ostensibly more attractive offer from Nottingham Forest to sign for us two years ago. Much as he's gleefully quick and, on his day, a lethal finisher and much as he suffered badly through injury and other setbacks no fault of his own during his time here, you can't help but remain to be convinced by Danny Webber.

And it's a little hard to put your finger on precisely what went wrong for him at Watford. His first season under contract at Vicarage Road, following invigorating loan spells under both Vialli and Ray Lewington, was disrupted by injury and by the tragedy of his close friend Jimmy Davis' death - in a difficult campaign for the club as a whole, he never really got going.

But he started the 2004-05 season in devastating style, looking every inch the top flight finisher that Alex Ferguson had obviously believed he could become. The first nine games of the campaign saw Danny hit the net ten times, instantly provoking claims of sightings of circling vultures (including one disturbingly persistent rumour involving Millwall). Many of these goals - including one that provoked a lunatic celebration in the last minute at Leicester - involved an offside trap being beaten by a combination of clever delivery (often Neal Ardley's) and that terrifying pace and alertness. All of them were unfussy, sharp, clinical. This was a master at his art.

His touch had deserted him long before he left the pitch at Priestfield clutching his shoulder. A symbolic moment occurred during Danny's tenth game, a 1-0 defeat to Reading at Vicarage Road... a rapid Watford attack found Chambers wide on the right, with the Reading defence backpedalling in some confusion. The ball came firmly across the box, Webber just had to propel it forwards... but was coming in too quickly, ahead of the ball, and played it sideways to a grateful goalkeeper. The forward on blistering form had missed an open goal.

It's tempting to put it all down to that instant. In truth, he played well enough in the next game, a gripping but goalless tussle with Wigan, but the games without a goal mounted up and his confidence disappeared.

The injury at Gillingham only kept him out for two months, but in truth he only looked like the same terrifying finisher in flickering moments. That one of these was at Wigan alongside Bruce Dyer is significant, for it's debatable whether Danny Webber and Heidar Helguson, a forward line that should have offered defences no respite, no easy option, ever played well at the same time - save, perhaps, for during his second loan spell in 2002.

Gradually, a player whose very arrival had demonstrated a considerable affection for the club, seemed to fall out of love with the place. Machinations in the background can't have helped - the complex funding arrangement involving private investment that had helped engineer his arrival in the first place meant that he was always going to be sold on at some point; and those involved can be forgiven for insisting on a return on their investment. We knew, too, that we weren't going to profit from this sale directly, but it speaks volumes that in the turmoil under which Danny left Watford, initially on loan following the change in manager, it was the fact that we had apparently signed an injured centre-back as our part of the deal, rather than that we had lost Webber, that caused most consternation.

Danny Webber is still only 23, and he still has time - as Heidar Helguson has demonstrated - to develop the steely mentality that is all he really lacks. Apart, perhaps, from some reliable shoulders. The boldness that saw him turn down that United contract two years ago will offer encouragement that this is a realistic possibility. It's just unfortunate that that won't be with us.

Matt Rowson