Andre Gray underperformed this season; that is a statement not many people would disagree with. The former Brentford and Burnley man is yet to justify the £18.5 million figure Watford paid for him in the summer of 2017. However, an under-the-radar, strong end to the season makes his future unclear, whether that be at Vicarage Road or elsewhere.
Andre Gray Deserves One More Watford Chance
Success With Brentford and Burnley
After Andre Gray led the fifth tier of English football with 30 goals in the 2013/14 campaign, Brentford paid £500,000 to Luton Town for his signature. The questionable signing proved to be a masterstroke. The leap to the Championship was seamless for Gray. He scored 16 goals and notched six assists in his first league season.
After two matches with Brentford in the 2015/16 campaign, Championship promotion rivals Burnley offered them £11 million – a sum the Bees could not turn down. Gray finished the 2015/16 campaign with 25 goals and nine assists, leading to a Burnley promotion and a Championship Player of the Season award.
In his first Premier League season, he scored nine goals and assisted three more in 26 starts. Following the departure of Odion Ighalo, Watford wanted a reliable strike partner for Troy Deeney, and so, the Hornets moved for Gray.
Premier League Time With Watford
His first season at Vicarage Road set the tone for his lacklustre Watford career. In his inaugural campaign in Hertfordshire, only 16 of his 31 appearances were starts. He found the back of the net five times.
The 2018/19 campaign was his most successful for Watford when he turned into a “super-sub.” Despite making 29 league appearances, only 13 were starts. He nonetheless scored seven times and assisted twice more in the league, in addition to two goals and one assist in Watford’s improbable run to the FA Cup final.
It was the importance of each of his contributions, however, which made the 2018/19 season his best for Watford by a considerable margin. There was a span when in three consecutive home matches, Gray came off the bench to score the winner (one of which sent Watford to Wembley). His intricate passing combination with Gerard Deulofeu and assist in extra time sent Watford to their second ever FA Cup final.
His 2019/20 season, though, was alarmingly poor. With Deeney sidelined for much of the first third of the campaign, the club needed someone to step up and fill the centre-forward void. Gray had a prime opportunity to seize the moment, but he did the opposite. He ended the season with just two goals.
Underwhelming Championship Campaign With Encouraging Silver Linings
For much of the Hornets’ promotion campaign, Gray’s performances continued to be poor. At the season’s conclusion, he scored nearly five fewer goals than his xG statistic predicts.
But, despite his shortcomings this season, recent history shows he is an over-performer. In the 2018/19 Premier League season, he scored two more goals than his xG statistic predicted. During the 2016/17 season, he outscored his xG statistic by over one goal. In his prolific 2015/16, Gray’s xG statistic was 20.90, 4.10 lower than his actual output. So, the Hornets may take note of his historic trends to gloss over his underperformance of late.
The 29-year-old also ended this season strong – from the club’s 2-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers onward, he averaged one goal scored per 114 minutes. Four goals in such a span – a period in which he only started four matches – is impressive. Now playing for the Jamaican international team as well, Gray’s career seems to be on the up.
Unfortunately for Gray, he seems destined to fall further down the pecking order. With Joao Pedro tying down a new contract and performing better than Gray last season regardless, Cucho Hernandez set to return from loan, Deeney fighting for a starting spot, and a host of new strikers targeted, it would be more than just a tall task for Gray to claim a place in the starting eleven.
But, if a viable offer does not come in, then the Hornets do not have much of a choice. Besides, his contract expires in the summer of 2022 anyway, so it is not as if good money will come in for his services.
Letting him depart for free this season, however, does not make much sense either. With things starting to look up, keeping hold of Gray may be a risk worth taking. The worst-case scenario is he barely plays and that is that.
Xisco Munoz will be neither desperate nor required to play Gray if he is not impressing in training or in other cameos. So, why not give him one last chance if no reasonable offer comes in? The hill to consistent minutes is steep, but the low-risk gamble of keeping him could prove to be one worth taking, even if a new striker arrives.