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    Troy Deeney's Compelling Rise from Degradation

    “I don’t like ‘role-model’ I don’t like ‘hero’ I don’t like ‘idol’. If you’re a twelve to eighteen-year-old lad, who wants to be a footballer and you’ve had a bit of hardship, who’s the one footballer you can look up to? Me.”

    Troy Deeney speaks altruistically when, in an interview with BBC’s Darren Campbell which is scheduled to air on Radio 5 Live on the 1st of December, he emphasises that it is merely a difference in “mind set”, not fortune, which sets himself apart from other aspiring footballers who have been born into humble beginnings and have acquired a controversial past.

    Watford's captain, the first player in the Hertfordshire club’s 135-year history to reach the 20 goal-mark in three successive seasons, cited Ian Wright as the player of a similar “calibre” to himself, who he looked up to, as an unlikely success story.

    As a teenager, Ian Wright, who would go onto sign for Arsenal for a club record fee, was rejected from Brighton and Southend, after having trials with both of the clubs. Wright became disenchanted with the prospect of becoming a footballer, forced to continue playing for non-league clubs such as his local Dulwich Hamlet F.C.. Things took a turn for the worst for the now Arsenal legend, as whilst in a period of destitution when his wife was expecting their first child, he was sentenced to two weeks in Chelmsford Prison – due to an inability to pay fines for driving without any tax or insurance on his car.

    This moment for the enigmatic striker, capped 33 times for England, would go on to be seen as the nadir of what was a truly illustrious career – being Arsenal’s top scorer six seasons in a row. Wright has been quoted as pointing to his first night in jail as the catalyst to obtaining his childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer. Bursting into tears, Wright, in that moment, promised himself, and God, that he would do everything he could to make it in the game.

    Aged 14, Troy Deeney, who racked up 15 premier league goals last season, was expelled from his school. A year later, Deeney was allowed to return to education to undertake his GCSEs. However, this was a fruitless task, as he ended up leaving school at 16, with no GCSEs, stepping straight into a £120-a-week job as a bricklayer. Fast forward twelve years, this wage would go on to be multiplied approximately 416 times over, as Deeney signed a lucrative 5-year deal with “The Hornets” in July 2016, reportedly earning around £50 thousand pounds a week.

    Despite his difficult beginning, Deeney’s career, unlike Wright’s looked to be taking a relatively traditional shape prior to his conviction, as he was spotted by a Walsall scout in a drunken 11-4 performance in which he scored 7 goals for his local non-league side. Deeney would go on to score his first professional goal for League 2 Walsall in September 2007, aged 19, in a 2-1 win against Millwall. Fast forward to the end of the 2009-2010 season, Deeney had finished as Walsall’s top goal scorer, netting 14 goals and receiving the Player of the Year award. Despite receiving a 2-year contract extension the summer before, Deeney was awarded for his goal scoring exploits with his local Walsall by signing for Championship side Watford, for a reported £500,000, in August 2010. Despite struggling to initially excel as he had at Walsall, often being played out of position on the wing by manager Malky Mackay and accumulating an underwhelming 3 goals from 40 appearances (20 starts) in his first season, Deeney finished the 2011-2012 season as Watford’s top goalscorer.  Deeney had a successful sophomore campaign, racking up 12 in all competitions, whilst also obtaining the Goal of the Season award for his effort against Ipswich in March 2012.

    On the 25th of June 2012, less than four years ago, 28-year-old Birmingham-born striker Deeney, was sentenced to ten months in prison after admitting affray – as he was caught on CCTV kicking a man in the head in a physical brawl on Broad Street, in which a student suffered a broken jaw and required twenty stitches. Deeney’s remorse at the crime was clearly evident, as he was released after serving almost three months of his sentence.

    In the interview with Campbell, Deeney recalled an anecdote from his time in prison, when he "robbed a Snickers", smuggling the confectionary item into his cell after his girlfriend gave it him, as being his "lowest point". Going from being a Championship footballer, "the man", to being forced to sneak in a chocolate bar in an attempt to salvage some happiness. Similarly to Wright, Deeney must’ve experienced an epiphany of sorts, as since his release he has gone on to spearhead the Watford revolution, going from being stranded down in the Championship to being a top-half premier league side in a relatively short period of time; whilst also accumulating himself GCSEs in English, Maths and Science, in the process.

    One short of a century of goals for the club who, at the time of writing sit proudly 8th in the Premier League, Deeney emphasises that his inspiring story has not climaxed yet, as he still aspires to represent “The Three Lions” on the international stage. However, Deeney is keen to stress that his story won’t be “defined” by whether he is selected to represent England, stating that it’ll merely be the “icing on the cake” of his journey, as all he is currently concerned with is trying to be “the best Troy” he can be.

    On the back of Watford's 4-2 comeback in September against West Ham, Deeney criticised France international Dmitri Payet for his rabona-cross which was instrumental in the build up to Michail Antonio’s goal. Deeney accused acts like this as being unprofessional, an attempt to “mug off” the opposition and the sort of thing which should be left behind when you stop playing in the “playground” as a child. Whilst this opinion was met with some criticism by those saying this skill merely adds to the spectacle of the sport, Deeney’s stance against unnecessary extravagance, in favour of professionalism and austerity, is the attitude which was ultimately key to his unlikely comeback from degradation.

    Deeney’s rise has been as instantaneous and unforeseen as they come. Despite this, Deeney has not let himself be determined by whether he does make the next logical step and play for England, instead Deeney is content by focusing on the “real life [which] starts again” after the 90 minutes of what is “just a game”. Deeney, I believe, will get his chance for England, as his form is arguably the main reason Watford are where they are now - the reason why the club were forced to reject a £20 million bid from Leicester in the summer. Providing for his family, staying true to his roots, being “free” and taking each moments as it comes is what Deeney will continue to do, regardless of whether the looming England call up ever comes, and I look forward to seeing how the striker continues to serve as a “role model” to those who know what its like to truly hit rock-bottom, even if he denies the label.

    This mantra, of aspiring to be the best version of yourself, whilst not giving yourself any set, senseless targets, is what I find most truly inspiring about the Deeney success story. It pains me to say, as an Aston Villa fan, the club who rejected Deeney as a 15-year-old and the club who Deeney tormented last season with two late goals which sealed the club’s fate to relegation in a 3-2 win for “The Hornets”, that Deeney is one of Birmingham’s most impressive, emblematic recent success stories. Despite being a self-admitted “Bluenose”, Deeney emphasised how disastrous it was for his home city that “the biggest club” in the West Midlands were relegated, mainly due to how many jobs would be lost and the general socio-economic negatives which would be imposed on England’s second city as a result of the relegation. Selfless quotes such as these, coming on the back of a win and a man of the match performance for his club, serve in proving, in my eyes, why Deeney’s is one of, if not the most interesting, awe-inspiring “rags to riches” story which has come out of sport in recent years – holding its own even in a world containing the likes of Jamie Vardy and Conor McGregor.

    Written by Joe Myko
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    Item Reviewed: Troy Deeney's Compelling Rise from Degradation Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Joe Myko
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