LOST BOYO IN VERONA – 2006 –
OTHER CLUBS – Shrewsbury (Youth) Manchester City (Youth) Oxford United, Wolves, Oldham Athletic, Stockport County (loan), Brighton, Yeovil (loan), Port Vale (loan), Chesterfield, Barnsley
WALES CAREER: Wales U17 (8 caps/2 goals) Wales U19 (7 caps) Wales U21 (7 caps/3 goals) Wales (5 caps)
As any trawler of football club Wikipedia pages knows, towards the bottom there is a list of ‘Notable former players.’ If you are to venture onto the Wikipedia entry for Hellas Verona you will find a very impressive cast of former players: Pippo Inzaghi, Alberto Gilardino, Luigi Apollini, Claudio Caniggia, Angelo Peruzzi, Preben Elkjaer and the enigmatic Paolo Rossi, playing for the club towards the end of his career. Alongside these big names of world football there features just two ‘notable’ British players; one of these is Scotland international Joe Jordan, who played for the club the season before their only Scudetto winning season in 1984-85, and a lesser known Welsh player called Craig Davies. So why does Wikipedia (or the person that edited the page) consider Craig Davies to be a ‘Notable former player’?
You could argue that any British player opting to ply their trade outside of these shores is notable in itself, a fact that is often lamented in football columns up and down the country, but in the case of Davies, Verona’s desire to sign him seemed rather strange.
Davies began his career in the youth setups of Shrewsbury and Manchester City without making the grade at either club; Davies was supposedly dismissed from the Man City youth ranks for a failure to knuckle down – a reputation as a bit of a ’bad boy’ would follow Davies around for the majority of his nomadic career.
Davies signed for Oxford United in 2004 and earned a professional contract with the club in 2005 following impressive performances with the U’s youth team. Davies entered the first team setup all guns blazing scoring 5 goals in 10 games and getting a call up to the Wales U-21 squad. There was even talk of a move to Premier League Charlton Athletic, although no real offer ever developed. However, he soon dropped down the pecking order and in his 2nd season at the club, even getting appearances on the bench became hard to come by and eventually non-existent. This is where Verona’s signing of Davies becomes curious; although a brief fan favourite in his early days at Oxford for his wholehearted performances, Davies had had little impact at a club languishing in the basement of League Two.
When Oxford United accepted an offer from Verona thought to be around £86k, Davies, like many British players before him, appeared disenchanted by the prospect of leaving British shores and rejected Verona’s proposal. However, by the end of the January transfer window Davies had a change of heart and just as the January transfer window was slamming shut, Davies sneaked through it and jetted off to Serie B with Oxford struggling towards the bottom of League Two and eventually being relegated from the Football League that very same season. Davies followed in the footsteps of other British exports to Italy such as Platt, Gascoigne, Brady, Wilkins and…uh, Bothroyd (?).
From a Welsh perspective, the move was greeted with excitement; a player moving from the lower leagues to an exciting new league, although admittedly not the top league of Italy. The move also followed the retirement of John Hartson from the Welsh national team, alongside many other Welsh internationals during the Tosh era. Davies, a player cited to be highly ambitious, may have seen the transfer (and media that surrounded it) as an opportunity to break into the national team (Davies was born in Burton-on-Trent). Toshack was also clearly a fan of youth in his early squads, although this was partly because of necessity at the time. Toshack was supposedly a big fan of Davies and was particularly struck by him after a 45 minute hatrick for Brian Flynn’s U21s. Once again, Davies’s volatile temperament would raise its head and hamper Davies’s opportunities as following excellent displays for the U21s he decided to head-butt an opponent, which lead to a lengthy ban from the national team and international wilderness for 18 months.
Whatever Verona had seen in Davies, it was clear from their offer that they perceived Davies as a long term signing for the club with a massive 5-year contract; a staggering amount for a player who was still very much an unknown and unproven quantity. Initially, Davies had a similar notion of remaining with the club long term; weeks after signing for the club Davies describes in an interview with the BBC how he is embracing life in a different culture, learning the language, getting prepared to tackle Italian roads and even talks about his girlfriend moving to the country. Davies even goes onto say: “I like the food – a lot!” a stumbling block for many British players abroad. The idea that Davies was ready to make a bid for the Welsh squad is apparent, as he talks about how a couple of seasons in Italy’s more ‘serious’ footballing climate would enhance him as a player:
“But here I am just constantly focused on my football. If I have a year or two like that then I am bound to improve.”
As far as his attributes as a footballer go, it could be argued that Davies had many of the ingredients required to be successful in Italy; the signature British footballer attributes of high work rate, strength and tenacity, but also mixed in with a lot of pace and acceleration to bombard through the stubborn defences of Serie B.
The interview with the BBC displays an eagerness to become a success abroad and all round commitment to improving as a player. However, after just 6 months in Verona and just 1 brief appearance Davies wanted out of Verona citing homesickness as one of the main reasons. In the same early interview with the BBC there is an indication that Davies was succumbing to homesickness:
“Family and friends are the main things I am missing, and my old daily routine. Some days I am fine and I will not think about it, but other times it plays on my mind. Earlier this week I really felt like I wanted to see my family, so I am still a bit homesick I suppose.”
After just 6 disastrous months of not playing (due to a supposed lack of fitness) and just 1 substitute appearance, Davies had had enough, and whether it was the escalating homesickness or the lack of game time, Davies decided to exit the Italian club.
After Davies’ “adventures” in Verona, Davies returned to the Football League on a season long loan with Wolves. His 23 game stint with Wolves was another barren stint and he was soon on the move again, this time to Oldham Athletic. I actually had the opportunity to see Davies play in the flesh in a fixture against Swansea during the 20087/08. Many members of the Swansea crowd were aware of who he was; “He’s that Welsh one isn’t he?” “Didn’t he play in Italy or something?” Oldham lost 2-1 that day, but Davies, who won a penalty for the away side, was arguably the most impressive player on the pitch. I remember being instantly impressed with his quick turn of pace and his powerful running (which led to an Oldham penalty that day). He also displayed a knack of getting stuck into the oppostition, sometimes a little too over-boisterously (see here what the Swansea fans’ thoughts were on their ‘compatriot’ that day) Although still a little raw, I was sure that he was destined for further caps for the Welsh national team and to even become a prominent member of the squad – don’t forget this was early 2008 and bleak days for the national team.
Although an erratic career into his mid-20s, Davies began to make a bit of a name for himself in League Two at Chesterfield (via Stockport, Brighton, Yeovil and Port Vale), where he showed some of the talent that was clear as a youngster winning the League Two title under John Sheridan’s guidance of the Spireites, as well as scoring 23 goals to shoot him towards the top of the goal scoring charts and entering PFA Team of the Year for League One. Although there were still glimpses of his edgier side as he became the first player to be sent off at Chesterfield’s new home, The B2net Stadium.
At the start of the current season (2011/12) Davies signed for Barnsley in The Championship, targeted by their new manager, Keith Hill. Davies has made a good start and has become quite popular amongst the fans for his high energy, bustling displays alongside the more clinical Ricardo Vaz Te. Strikers are not exactly in abundance for the national team these days, so maybe, if he can maintain his cool, Davies could grace the famous red shirt once more.