Date: 5th September 2006 at 12:42pm
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Tommy Smith is a good signing for Watford, according to the results of our online poll.

Smith returned to Vicarage Road last Wednesday after Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd paid Derby County £500,000 for his services but there is much debate amongst Watford supporters whether he represents value for money and is good enough for the Premiership.

There is no doubting that Smith has ability; he has pace, is quick-footed, and since making his Watford debut as a 17-year-old in the 1997/98 season, has shown an enormous amount of potential during his time at Vicarage Road.

The striker made 13 starts and came of the bench nine times (scoring twice) in Watford`s maiden Premiership campaign but it wasn`t until the following year that Smith`s Watford career took off.

In Graham Taylor`s final season at the club, Smith became a regular in the first-team and formed a formidable strike-partnership (scoring 11 times) with Player of the Season Tommy Mooney. The promise he showed as a much-talked-about teenager was beginning to materialise.

It was expected that Smith would really kick on the following season – not just in terms of goalscoring but also his all-round play. However, the striker could only manage to bag the same number of goals as he did in the previous season.

Watford finished the season mid-table and millions in debt. Along with turning Watford into the Manchester United of the South, the ill-fated Gianluca Vialli promised to turn Tommy Smith into a world-class striker. Unfortunately, neither happened.

Playing in a struggling side full of prima donnas – Ramon Vega, Patrick Blondeau, Pierre Issa, ect – that were destined for mid-table mediocrity, as opposed to a side that were heading for the Premiership until stuttering midway through the campaign and finished mid-table could be used an explanation for the striker not developing at the speed we expected him to.

Things did not get any better the following season. amazingly, post-Vialli Watford – who only avoided going into administration thanks to the players taking a 12% wage deferral – reached the semi-final of the FA Cup under the guidance of former reserve team boss Ray Lewington.

But Smith, who scored a crucial winner at Sunderland (following a re-take) in the Fifth Round and netted against Burnley in the quarter-final, was dropped from the starting line-up in favour of on-loan striker Michael Chopra.

The loanee had scored four against Burnley the week before – in a remarkable 7-4 victory – and was selected by Lewington for his predatory instincts. Smith turned down a new Watford contract and left Vicarage Road for Sunderland in the close-season, having scored nine times in 28 starts during his campaign with the club.

He spent nine months on Wearside, making 22 starts and scoring eight times. George Burley signed smith for Derby County in 2004 and it is at Pride Park where Smith has (to date) played the best football of his career – as a winger.

It was often argued at Watford that Smith was not a fox in the box or indeed had the killer instinct that a striker needs in front of goal to be successful and therefore should be deployed out wide.

George Burley had the foresight to experiment with Smith and play him on the wing – it worked and the Scots successors, Phil Brown and Terry Westly, continued to deploy Smith on the right flank.

He was a provider rather than predator but his goalscoring record did not take a turn for the worse; in his first season for the Rams Smith scored nine times and in his final season he scored 11 times – the same amount as he did in his most prolific season as a striker at Vicarage Road.

Following Boothroyd`s decision not to re-sign Chris Eagles on loan again from Manchester United, the Watford boss was always going to be in the market for another attacking right midfielder.

By playing Ashley Young on the right it left little options on the left-hand side: Bouazza or Stewart. Alternatively Young could have been played on the left and James Chambers -who is not the most attacking of players – could have been played on the right, as was the case in the play-off semi-finals and final last season.

It looks the case that Smith is Boothroyd`s man for the right-hand side role but he is still unproven at Prmiership level. However, the former Academy player believes he is a better player than when he left the club three seasons ago.

“I just hope that I can come back now and prove that I am a better player than I was when I left and that I made the right decision to leave when I did and that I’ve now come back here as a better player and am a bigger asset to the club than I was before,” said Smith.

On the face of it, half a million for a player that only had a year left on his contract may appear a lot of money to pay for a player that left Watford for virtually nothing three years ago.

But with the exceptions of Sietes and Martin Devaney, all of Boothroyd`s Watford signings have, to date, been hugely successful. Smith may not be the world-class striker that Vialli promised but if he proves to be a Premiership winger Aidy Boothroyd will have pulled off another transfer coup.

Poll Results in full:

Is Tommy Smith a good signing?
Yes 69%
No 31%