Manchester United are looking forward to their FA Cup campaign after facing the exit in a 2-0 defeat at home against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup.
As the attention shifts on Saturday night, Manchester United fans should not forget the hidden gem we currently have at Watford, James Garner.
James will not be available for selection as he faces his parent club, but on the other hand a few familiar faces will be ready for the challenge. While the stories of those three former United players, currently at Watford and graduates are history, James Garner joined Watford on loan at the beginning of the season, in his own quest of making it as a regular to the United first team.
James’ league form with the Reserves’ last season did not leave many doubts of his quality in his age group. It meant only one thing; he was just too good for Premier League 2. I do recognise that keeping him around would have been brilliant for the Reserves’ team, but he would lose the chance for development and a real challenge.
For a number six like Garner, his numbers in the U18’s and U23’s were brilliant. He started playing regularly with the U18’s in the 2017/2018 where McKenna focused James in his defensive duties, rather than scoring or assisting. One season later, Garner was showing more of his qualities as a leader in the football pitch, showing his dominance in midfield.
He received everyone’s attention last season when he scored 9 goals and also gave three assists in just 12 starts with the Reserves’ (via YouthHawk). This loan deal did come in the right moment, despite the fact that James himself may not be happy with the performances so far. In an interview (via Hive Live) in December was honest in his assessment of his season at Watford:
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been at my best lately. The games have been tough, there have been lots of long balls, second balls, teams with big strikers, tall, aggressive players and lots of set-pieces. I knew that was very important in the Championship and it’s something I need to continue to work on. Also with my attacking set-pieces. The manager put me on set-pieces, on corners, on free-kicks so I need to knuckle down and start putting them on the money.
“I’ve got to do the dirty side. In the majority of games, you’ve got to do the dirty side first and the football comes out second. It’s about weathering that storm for 15 to 20 minutes and then letting our quality come through. I feel that’s in me. I always played with older, bigger and stronger players in the youth teams. I was playing as a six doing the dirty work. I’m not scared of it, I love doing it. It’s not all about assisting and scoring.”
Having watched Jimmy play a few times this season, it is quite understandable that Watford fans might feel a little bit frustrated at what they expected initially. He has had a good number of games which means they have created an opinion on him. Whether we as United fans like it or not, the Championship is indeed a difficult challenge for a player in his first loan. Despite this, statistics don’t do justice, as per Transfermarkt his only goal contribution was an assist against Coventry. As explained by James himself, his main focus is to do the dirty work, something that rings exactly like Michael Carrick who was criminally underrated.
A comparison to Michael Carrick may be a bit off place right now, still James’ vision and his ability to read the game remain intact. It is quite difficult to introduce a player in the first team even in the Championship and while he has to build more on the game, 19 appearances are still a positive for him.
Nevertheless, his first games with Watford were promising indeed with James taking over some important duties, only dropping in form recently. The number of fixtures has been immense which has affected his performances a bit, with the managers also trying to focus more on his creative abilities rather than defensive midfield. It certainly is not a bad thing, but looking back at the performances in the academy, doing the dirty work was his thing.
Garner’s performance may have been average at best, but this is just the beginning for him. Watford may be a harsh challenge, but he will take it. The struggles many note, are the same he faced in United’s first team. Manchester United and the player knew well what a challenge this was for Jimmy, but he is determined to do well. With the schedule being as it is right now, the kid should just live up to it, try hard and focus.