Soccer: Ever-present Doucoure keeps Watford on the rise
By Neil Robinson
(Reuters) - Abdoulaye Doucoure has played every minute of Watford's campaign this season, scored with each of his four shots on target and accounted for 17.5 percent of their successful passes -- the highest return for any player in the Premier League.
With statistics like that, the unassuming Frenchman is one of the prime reasons behind Watford's success so far this season, which has seen Marco Silva's side draw with Liverpool, beat Arsenal and have the better of last week's narrow defeat at Chelsea.
In each game the bargain-buy eight-million-pound ($10.61 million) midfielder has excelled. Last week he eclipsed his compatriot, Chelsea's 40-million-pound Tiemoue Bakayoko, to such an extent that France manager Didier Deschamps might wonder whether he has the right base to his midfield.
Doucoure scored, as he did in the draw with Liverpool, on the back of another superb box-to-box performance that has become his trademark since Marco Silva made him the hub of the team.
"I’m happy. I work for where I have come to and I want to be one of the best midfielders in the league -- and a leader. I have to work on that and at the end of the season you’ll see where I am," he told the club's website.
"I think I have to improve in the Premier League. I have to work and want to be one of the best.
"N’Golo Kante was the best player in the Premier League at Leicester. There's a lot of midfielders I look up to, but in myself I want to show my quality, too."
It has taken him a while after coming within 33 seconds of leaving on loan to Lorient in August 2016.
Previous manager Walter Mazzarri had left him out of his pre-season plans and a disillusioned Doucoure got as far as Luton airport, where a private plane was ready to take him to France.
But instead of starting a new life, he was stranded on the tarmac when the deal fell through because "the paperwork was late by 33 seconds" -- the sort of deadline-day drama that football specialises in.
At least Doucoure is used to quick tournarounds, having arrived at Watford from Rennes the previous January only to be loaned out immediately to Spanish side Granada for the rest of the season.
The 24-year-old made his Watford debut only at the start of this year, eventually persuading Mazzarri to play him in his favoured central-midfield position where he flourished despite Watford's free-fall end to last season.
"I didn't start in my position," he said. "I played right winger. I prefer box-to-box. This is my first position but I am happy with holding midfield. I get to touch the ball a lot and I can go deep and start the play."
Under Silva, he has linked well this season with Nathaniel Chalobah, who has had to fight to establish himself after failing to get his chance at Chelsea.
Doucoure has also found himself in the shadows of others in French youth teams that included Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Valencia's Geoffrey Kondogbia.
"Pogba is still my friend now. I speak to him and when we went to Manchester he gave me his shirt. We speak on the telephone. He's a nice guy."
Most immediately, his sights are set on Saturday's visit of Stoke City, the sort of opponents Watford will be expected to beat comfortably if they are to sustain their current sixth place -- and further improve those impressive statistics.
($1 = 0.7539 pounds)
(Reporting by Neil Robinson,; Editing by Neville Dalton)