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  • EXCLUSIVE: By Alessandro Schiavone

Is this untested ex-Watford player the biggest mistake the Pozzos have made?

By Alessandro Schiavone in Gent


KAA Gent 4-1 Zorya Luhansk



Photo from Wikimedia Commons


Like any good bar-room debate, there’s no correct answer. Maybe he would have been a success, perhaps not. Maybe he would have left an indelible mark on the Vicarage Road club but again there’s absolutely no guarantee. Maybe he would have been a water carrier but... most likely not.


Back in the summer of 2016, Watford mysteriously wielded the axe on a Belgian footballer without first finding out what he was made of. Does the name Sven Kums sound any familiar? Don’t worry if not. Because you have to be a diehard Hornet following the club on a daily, if not hourly basis, for the name to still ring a bell eight seasons and hundreds of medical checks later. Signed for £8.5m from KAA Gent in late August 2016 after catching the eye in the slower-paced Belgian competition, the player never got a look-in and was immediately loaned out to the Hornets’ Serie A sister club Udinese days later without making a single appearance.


And strangely never returned before, the following summer, his dream club Anderlecht gave him the platform he craved at the start of his playing career but never got.


Yet if anyone is thinking that a 28-year-old Kums didn’t have what it took to do the job for Watford in the Premier League, think again. Because KAA Gent’s orchestra conductor is still doing it almost eight years on in the Europa Conference League.


Looking back, competition for places in the middle of the park was stiff under manager Walter Mazzarri. Four automatic starters were ahead of him in the pecking order. In the same summer Kums quit the Ghelamco Arena for England, Abdoulaye Doucoure swapped Ligue 1 also-rans Stade Rennes for Watford and went on to play 141 times for the Hertfordshire outfit. While the tried-and-trusted Valon Behrami was one of the first names the Italian tactician pencilled into his XI having already managed him at Napoli a couple of years previously. In other words he was his teacher's pet.


And Etienne Capoue was never going to leave Tottenham Hotspur’s state-of-the-art training complex to warm up the bench in WD18. Finally Adlene Guedioura commanded great respect after scoring arguably one of the greatest goals in the club’s history a few months previously. Getting the picture? It would have been hard for Kums to break into the team.


Against Zorya Luhansk last week, which saw KAA Gent storm to a 4-1 win, he was worth his weight in gold. Easy on the eye, he was so difficult to knock off the ball as he kept it with a calm assurance and made his presence felt between the lines. Technically and tactically, he was a cut above the other 21 starters and his interceptions and knowing where the ball was going to end up were a clear indicator that he has a footballing brain out of the ordinary. So, how many players did Watford possess with his finesse and pinpoint range of passing? At nearly 36 years of age it’s getting late in the day but Kums is showing no signs of slowing down, proving so important for manager Hein Vanhaezebruck’s young team’s balance.

 

He's also juggling the extra demands of European football impressively, having started each of Gent’s 28 games this season.


When all is said and done, it's impossible to go back and undo a decision but it’s tempting to wonder how he would have fared in a Watford side that finished 17th in the league that season, only six points clear of relegation. Especially at a critical time, towards the end of the campaign, when Mazzarri's men were in trouble, going on to lose 10 out of 14 league fixtures.


No one will ever know and get closure but in the light of what he's producing almost a decade on, it's unlikely that he would have been a rabbit in the Premier League headlights.

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