Dalby: “Deeney Is Someone I Look At A Lot”
By Kevin Affleck
Not content with four goals in as many days in pre-season, including a hat-trick, and then two assists on his Professional Development League debut for the club, Sam Dalby is looking to become an even more rounded striker by picking up some tips of the trade from Troy Deeney.
Dalby has hit the ground running since signing from Leeds United in the summer in a deal that is already looking a really shrewd piece of business, and he has already identified the one player whose brains he wants to pick.
“Deeney is someone I look at a lot,” said Dalby. “My style is quite similar to his as he likes to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Watching him, by coming to every first-team game at home, is a great experience. I get to watch him, learn from him and make sure I'm doing everything he is doing.”
Deeney, being Deeney, will probably happily pass on the odd bit of know-how to someone clearly so eager to learn. Dalby is still a teenager and not 20 until January but he's already been round the block. He made his senior debut for Leyton Orient at 16, his league debut just a few months later and had his first League Two goal before he was 17. He can also boast of working under Marcelo Bielsa, the revered coach at Leeds United, and scoring a goal for the Yorkshire giants in pre-season last summer.
So it says something about where Watford's Under-23 side want to go this season that they were able to attract someone who has been in the first-team picture at Elland Road.
“I was at Leeds, still had another year but then I found out that I could come here,” said Dalby. “It came about really quickly and I was keen to get things moving. Within a couple of days everything was sorted. We weren't due to report back until July 15 at Leeds and I wanted to start pre-season earlier than that and wanted a new challenge.”
The fact Academy Manager Richard Thomas and Assistant Coach Omer Riza, two coaches he knew from his time at Orient, were here helped smooth the deal. They were at Brisbane Road when Andy Hessenthaler gave him the nod in the EFL Cup tie against Stevenage.
“I was only 16 and had just started full-time,” he said. “Within a few months Hessenthaler thought he'd give me a chance against Stevenage. It was really good. I hadn't trained much with the first team and I thought I'd just be on the bench for the experience. We were 2-0 up on about 70 minutes against 10 men so he just chucked me on.”
Hessenthaler, the former midfield workhorse for the Hornets, left soon after but new boss Andy Edwards integrated Dalby in his league team a few months later, firstly with a maiden league appearance against Wycombe and then a first league start against Crawley Town. Dalby made quite the impact.
“It was on Boxing Day,” said Dalby. “I had been out with an ankle injury and we had a new manager who liked to use the young players. I hadn't trained much but he stuck me in and I scored after four minutes. It was a massive moment, especially as all my family were there.”
He ended up making 18 league appearance for the O's and created a few waves before Crystal Palace and then Leeds came calling.
“I went on trial at Palace and they wanted to be buy me,” he said. “Then the last day of the window there were a couple of moves they wanted to make so that didn't get done in the end, but six months later I was bought by Leeds.”
His acclimatisation in Yorkshire was helped by the fact he had grandparents in the area. He also quickly became good friends with Jack Clarke, Bryce Hosannah, Pascal Struijk and Clark Odour.
“I settled really well,” he said. “In the first six months I was playing really well and scoring lots of goals for the 23s. I was with the first team every day in pre-season last summer and that was such a good experience. Bielsa's attention to detail is ridiculous. If there is one cone out of place, just by a little bit, he'll go mad and make sure it's in the right place.”
Even the prospect of working under Bielsa, who Pep Guardiola called “the best coach in the world”, was not enough to keep Dalby at Elland Road when the chance arose to move back down south and join the Golden Boys.
“Everything is fantastic,” said the Leytonstone-born Dalby. “I'm really enjoying the football and training every day with a good bunch of lads. We had a great trip to Germany and it really helped team bonding with a new bunch of lads. The facilities at RB Leipzig are unbelievable. I think it cost £50m and it's world class. Playing against their Under-19s was a good experience in itself but to get three goals was a bonus.”
Dalby, who possesses a deft left foot for a big man, got another against Wingate & Finchley four days later, a lovely first-time finish with the outside of his left foot and somehow he didn't get off the mark against Hull City at Vicarage Road on Monday.
“I couldn't believe it,” he said. “I should have scored at least two and I had one disallowed. I'll hopefully get on the scoresheet next week.”