Affleck's Angle: Deadline Day Diamond Dom
Kevin Affleck was impressed by the rare talent Domingos Quina displayed against Cardiff City...
“Where do they keep finding them?”
Those were the words uttered by one senior member of the squad when he traipsed off the training ground after getting his first glimpse of Domingos Quina in August.
By “they”, he was referring to the club's key decision makers and wondering how on earth they continue to bring in a conveyor belt of previously unheralded talent from the continent for next to nothing really.
Richarlison had just left for Everton, the ink on his contract was barely dry and yet here was another player with rare gifts making the jaws of experienced players drop.
Technical Filippo Giraldi once explained in these pages how far and wide the tentacles of the Pozzos' scouting network spread.
“It's like a spy story,” Giraldi jokes. “I don't like to say their names or where they are based, but I can tell you we cover everywhere. The only continent we don't cover permanently is Africa. We have a good contact in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana and send someone there when there is a big tournament.”
The irony with Quina is that he was virtually on their doorstep, right under their noses. They were always aware of his talent – there isn't really a player, young or old, in Europe they don't know something about – but the trouble was he was also in the notebook of virtually every scout worth his salt and there was no inclination he could be prised out of West Ham.
Then, ten minutes before the summer transfer window closed, there was a knock on the door at the training ground. A hooded gentleman told Giraldi that he had Quina in the car park and that he wanted to sign for Watford. No, seriously he did. Don't believe me? Then let Scott Duxbury take up the story.
“I said to Filippo, ‘Is he any good?’” Duxbury said in an interview with the Financial Times. “[Giraldi] went, ‘Yes, he’s phenomenal, Scott, but it’s got to be a joke, how on earth can we do this?’ “I phone West Ham. It’s not a joke. He’s got a year left of his contract. They just want to do a deal because they know they’re going to lose him in January, [so] we have a guy in a car park with 10 minutes to go before the window closes.”
That's when the uncomplicated nature of the club's structure came to the fore. Duxbury did not need to wait for the owner to wake up in a different time zone or come out of a meeting involving one of his other businesses. He stuck his head round the door in the back office and Gino Pozzo agreed the deal in a flash.
“We close the deal and we’ve signed a player that in the Carabao Cup scored a wonder goal, then in midweek for Portugal [under-19s], scored another wonder goal,” said Duxbury. “If you didn’t have that speed of decision-making, he wouldn’t be here now.”
Soccerbase report the fee paid to West Ham was £1million. Transfermarkt have it down as £990,000. Whatever it was it is already turning out to be arguably the bargain buy of the Pozzo reign, which is saying something when you consider the number of players who have walked into the place since 2012 for a price that makes you wonder if there has been a mis-print.
OK, Quina did not have long left on his contract but to put the deal in some kind of perspective, Saturday's opponents Cardiff paid nearly £12million apiece for Josh Murphy and Bobby Reid.
What's particularly interesting is that Quina could have turned up in the car park of just about every London club on transfer deadline day and they would have snapped him up, but the fact he punched Watford into the Sat Nav says plenty about how Watford is now viewed by fine young players as a stage where you can come and shine, where you get game time.
“I feel like I belong here,” said Quina after Saturday's game. “I've felt it since the first day I arrived at the club.”
Javi Gracia also deserves a huge amount of credit for blooding Quina. When results dipped, as they did recently, there would have been many coaches who would have played safe and chucked in the more experienced player in the engine room.
Games at home to Manchester City and away at Everton are no place for a rookie midfielder, many would have thought. But not Gracia. He knows a player when he sees one and he knew Quina would not hide, that he would show a different kind of bravery to the one you usually associate with the cut and thrust of English football: the bravery to get on the ball and not just thunder into tackles.
“I thought the way Dom, who don't forget us still only 19, slotted into the midfield for what would have been a really tricky game to make your first Premier League start [at Everton] in was really impressive,” said Troy Deeney in his programme notes. “The kid's got so much ability.”
Hasn't he just. We can all see now, in the space of two-and-a-half games, he is a player of rare gifts, that he can pick a pass and get out of a tight spot with a drop of the shoulder or a swaying of the hips. What was most impressive on Saturday was his maturity.
He played like the elder statesman at times, like the seasoned old pro. In the first half he was imploring Abdoulaye Doucouré to move left and higher so the Hornets could execute their press and then, at the end, he was gesticulating to Craig Cathcart, capped 40 times by his country, to get in the right position to ensure the Hornets did not leave themselves wide open to a counterattack when they had a corner. He's got good game awareness and this is a player mature way beyond his years, one who feels at home in this team and at this level.
“We have a young player who is showing his level,” Gracia. “I don't know many things about his past but he's with us and I know what he is able to do. I know his present his good and his future is much better.”
On a filthy day, when players of his talent sometimes don't fancy it, he enjoyed 105 touches and was accurate with 89 per cent of his passes. It would have been easy for Gracia to hook his young buck when the tide started to turn late on, but it was telling he didn't. Quina stayed on for the duration and that was perhaps a sign Gracia felt the Hornets missed his ability to retain possession in the closing stages at Everton. If the opposition don't have the ball, then they can't hurt you.
Everyone thought Étienne Capoue would walk back in after his three-game suspension, but now Gracia has a big decision to make, perhaps his biggest of the season, at West Ham on Saturday: recall Capoue or keep faith with Quina against his former club.
“I have to keep working hard to get more chances,” said Quina.
Quina couldn't have done much more against Cardiff, with his sweetly-taken goal representing the icing on the cake and the zenith of a mightily impressive team performance for 70 minutes.
“You have to go back a long time to see the type of football Watford are playing at Vicarage Road today,” said BBC Sport's Garth Crooks. “They have played some lovely football and the goals have been exquisite. I cannot work out what Cardiff could have done to stop any of them.”
Cardiff seemed to have no answer to Gerard Deulofeu who had one of those afternoons when he ran hot. He looked like making something happen every time he got on the ball.
“He was brilliant,” said Alan Shearer on Match of the Day. “He had a fantastic game. I think we should see more of it. He has the ability, there is no doubt about that. They couldn't handle him. He controlled the game and his goal was superb. I was very impressed with him.”
It was just like how he played at Wolves and at home to Huddersfield, performances that both ended in wins. If Deulofeu turns up and plays, then so, it seems, does this Watford team.
So the equation is pretty simple for Gracia: get a tune out of Deulofeu most weeks and score first – whenever they've scored first this season they haven't lost – and the rest will look after itself. The Head Coach doesn't have to worry about the recruitment of players, that's for sure. Not when he is being furnished with players like Quina.