It has to be said, my first reaction to the signing of Nathaniel Chalobah was one that consisted of mild surprise, tinged with more than a modicum of disappointment. After all, he's not the 20-goal-a-season striker we are so obviously desperately in need of. But then once the dust had settled (and after a text message conversation with @tom_delves, a Watford season ticket holding acquaintance) my ambivalence morphed into something much more positive. After all, Tom's first comments on him were "he was awesome for us under Zola...", which was quickly followed by the question on where Zola played him. "Centre mid as part of a 3. He worked well. Very unorthodox and skillful. Joy to watch at times."
So on reflection my own knowledge in tandem with Tom's words made me think he could be exactly what we need: a defensively minded central midfielder who is a bit of a unit and can play a bit. Great I thought, maybe not dissimilar to the thinking behind signing Leigertwood? Sign the holding player to enable the more attacking threats to concentrate on attacking? Logical isn't it? So it was a road to Damascus experience for me within the space of a few minutes, with the caveat being that I'd not actually seen him play. So notwithstanding the signals from Forest, Middlesbrough and Burnley (where he was managed by the abominable Billy Davies, played out of position by Aitor Karanka or hardly played at all by Sean Dyche) the signs were positive from Watford.
As it turned out, there was more than enough to be pleased about having witnessed his first 90 minutes in a Reading shirt. He appeared to line up alongside Danny Williams as part of a holding duo with Norwood further forward. Firstly this allowed Norwood to get forward in support of Pogrebnyak, the latter getting some more than presentable efforts away as a result. Overall the performance can be placed in the "mixed bag" category as there was some very good play interspersed with some sloppy passing and decision making.
The positives are that his touch is particularly good, almost a loving caress of the ball whenever it's near his feet. His first couple of touches in the first five minutes weren't fantastic but he still managed to retain the ball and find another Reading shirt despite the touch getting away from him a bit, something his leggy, languid build enables him to do. The good thing with this is that actually controlling the ball was difficult in the first place in both instances, the first instance being a dropping ball from height in the middle of the park requiring the first touch to be made on the run which he did successfully and under pressure. He did this a number of times throughout the match.
In addition he showed he rarely needed to actually tackle, instead positioning himself sufficiently well to enable an interception. Again, a slightly shaky start as the first time he was required to make a challenge he positioned himself poorly having initially lost the ball, and allowed the man to breeze past him in around the 10th minute but it seems that his propensity to be in the right position at the right time will stand him in good stead for us.
Likewise his aerial ability seemed to be of decent quality if unspectacular. He's a sizeable unit so will win his fair share of headers, a good attribute at the best of times but a clear key requirement when up against the more direct sides.
And one last positive is his awareness. He is clearly insanely aware of where his opponent is when receiving the ball, where his teammates are, where the space is and tries to use it to his advantage. On the flip side the worry is that he gave the ball away on more than one occasion when trying to be too clever, trying a little flick when it wasn't on, poorly executing a pass, his general decision making and pass execution could be better. I'm hopeful this was just rustiness from not playing a great deal and that it will improve, I can't believe this was the complete package.
To sum up, there is room for improvement but the signs are positive. If Clarke nurtures him well we could have a real diamond on our hands, but if we take the Davies, Karanka or Dyche approach we'll be left with a bit of a disappointing dud. Roll on Millwall!!!!