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Lloyd Doyley
Position: Right back
From: Watford FC Academy
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: A twenty-four carat joy
Past profiles: January 2002


The idea that "football has changed" is one of the many refuges of the game's wannabe-intelligentsia, the Barry Venisons and Garth Crooks of our little world. (See also: "football is big business", "the Premiership is the most exciting league in Europe", "Terry Venables is a great coach", "Rangers and Celtic joining the Premiership is inevitable", and "Wolves are a massive club", among numerous other things.) It's the kind of thing that you can say with an emphatic nod and a suitably highbrow air, that invites no contradiction while giving the impression that an opinion has been expressed. Whether it's actually true or not, the mighty ring of The Truth is always enough to buy you a seat in a television studio somewhere.

But it's bland and meaningless, until you get into the detail. Has football changed? Well, certainly...most things change over time, after all. But how has it changed? Why has it changed? For better or for worse? Detail, detail...and then it starts to get interesting.

A case in point. Lloyd Doyley. Now, we'll forget the fact that the transfer market has collapsed entirely in recent months, for that's not what concerns us here. Regardless of that, it seems to me that we would quickly have been struggling to hold onto Lloyd Doyley if he'd arrived on the scene, say, ten years ago. That word would be spreading, scouts would be cluttering up the Directors' Box, rumours would be circulating. Not on a grand scale, perhaps...but his name wouldn't be at all unfamiliar on football's grapevine. Now, on the other hand...well, we know all about him....

That's not his fault, of course. Nor, I imagine, is it something that concerns him very much, and rightly so. But it's interesting nevertheless. As Nigel Gibbs found out in the latter stages of his career, the role of the traditional, winger-worrying full-back has slipped into the past, a fond memory. These days, it's all attacking wing-backs and pushing forward to occupy your opponents and retaining possession rather than clouting it into a nearby field and overlapping runs and taking corners and what-have-you. Football has indeed changed, and Neal Ardley is, for now, a more valuable commodity than Lloyd Doyley.

Which makes me feel a bit like a real ale enthusiast, or a collector of seventy-eights, or whatever. For Lloyd Doyley is a twenty-four carat joy, and it's hard not to feel that football's lost a certain something with its new-found obsession with attacking defenders. As the coaching staff attempt to add new facets to his game, demanding offensive contributions on top of his relentlessly diligent defensive efforts, it feels a little like adding spoilers and go-faster stripes to a vintage Rolls Royce....

There will, naturally, be some readers who'll be keen to point out that the metaphorical comparison between Lloyd Doyley and a Rolls Royce is somewhat ill-founded. Well, perhaps. Of his many qualities, elegance and style do not rank particularly high, admittedly. Much that he does is untidy and disruptive, and there's very little flash and dazzle. It's accompanied by a quite extraordinary (and yet remarkably effective) heading technique too, propelling his entire body at the ball as if fired from a circus cannon. And so, while he's often hugely entertaining, Lloyd Doyley is rarely especially pretty.

Indeed, you rather suspect that every left winger that he comes up against will fancy their chances more than a little..."You seen their right back, lads? Four foot five, 'e is, and can't kick straight neither. Give us the ball early doors and we'll be larfin'." And most of them will be substituted after seventy-two minutes, having endured an afternoon of utter, hair-tearing frustration. For all Lloyd Doyley's idiosyncrasies, you see, he is an absolutely superb defender. Tenacious and yet controlled, he spends ninety minutes putting himself in the way, getting a boot in just when it seems that he's beaten, neatly directing opponents into corner flag cul-de-sacs. Being an obstacle. Getting better with every game.

The name's come up already...and much of it is indeed straight from the Nigel Gibbs School of Defending. Wonderfully familiar...and, bearing in mind that Lloyd Doyley has been under Gibbs' command for most of the 2002/03 campaign, not entirely surprising. Where Paul Robinson's trademark is the brutal, clobbering sliding tackle to send the ball into the hoardings and the opponent onto the turf, Lloyd Doyley's is a side-footed clearance after doggedly levering himself into the right position. If he goes to ground, something's gone wrong. It's all about preventative action, the product of awareness, positioning and more maturity than a youngster has any right to have. And it is, as I've already said, a joy to watch.

Really, I wasn't being terribly serious earlier. For all that I enjoy watching him at work, the management team has taken very good care of Lloyd Doyley over the last season, and there's absolutely no danger that his current strengths will be sacrificed in the process of working on his weaknesses. Indeed, he already looks like a more rounded, balanced player as a result of a lengthy holiday in the reserves, designed to give him the opportunity to gain confidence in the opposition half away from the pressure of the first team. Already a more than useful player - one for the present, not merely one for the future - the management team seems determined to take care of his long-term prospects.

And those prospects are bright, to say the least. In practical terms, he has precious little opposition - although Neal Ardley and Gavin Mahon have covered for him while he's been at finishing school, he remains the only genuine right back in the current squad (excluding Neil Cox, who's otherwise occupied these days). The possibilities for his personal development are particularly exciting, though. With such a strong foundation to his game, the addition of other elements - a bit more comfort on the ball, a bit more confidence in the final third - would create one absolutely bloody tremendous footballer. Time will tell, and we'll enjoy finding out....

Football might well have changed. But, as long as there's still some sanity in the world, there'll always be a place for a Lloyd Doyley or two.

Ian Grant
Last updated: June 2003