The Mysterious Case of Roberto Pereyra
Pete Remnant of Do Not Scratch Your Eyes tries to solve a mystery
Watford do not tend to buy players who have recently played in the Champions League final. So, when Roberto Pereyra walked out to the centre spot to wave at the crowd after his signing in 2016, we did not really know quite what to expect. The problem was that in 2020, despite flashes of genius, we still didn’t know what to expect.
Watford were hardly an established Premier League side when we signed Bobby P, as he became affectionately known. So signing a player from Juventus was something of a shock. However, it became apparent that this was another benefit of the connections afforded the club via the Pozzo network. You see, Pereyra had been purchased by Udinese in 2011 and brought to Europe. Unusually for a Pozzo signing, he was not bought from a lesser-known team, despite himself growing up in Tucuman province in the north-west of Argentina, over eight hundred miles from the capital. It was in fact from the South American giant River Plate of Buenos Aires that Bobby was picked, but whilst the point of departure was unusual, his Pozzo journey was quite typical.
Signing a five-year contract, Pereyra performed during a particularly good period for Udinese which saw the Zebras playing European football. Roberto did so well in fact that Juventus came calling. Initially on loan (would it be anything else?) he performed well enough for the ‘Old Lady’ of Italian football to buy him shortly after the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.
Interrupted by injury, Pereyra only made a further thirteen appearances for Juve, leaving to join up with his former owners, the Pozzo family, at Watford, under the charge of Walter Mazzarri.
Coming off the bench at half-time against Arsenal he showed the drive, determination, but more than anything the quality that the Hornets had been missing and really looked like he should have been on the Arsenal team who had gone in at the break 3-0 to the good. Pereyra grabbed a goal, but was unable to make a further dent in the scoreline – but we as fans had been mesmerised. His next ten games, played across the full range of midfield positions, saw Watford pick up five wins, two draws and three defeats before a red card and then injury ruled him out for the season.
He scored three goals and added one assist across four of those victories. Without the creative Pereyra, Mazzarri bought in others to replace him but Watford, after their bright start, limped across the line to safety, losing their final six games.
He started the first game under new manager Marco Silva, against Liverpool, but was withdrawn after 49 minutes to be replaced by Richarlison, who made an instant impact. His emergence, along with Pereyra’s recurrent niggling injuries, reduced the Argentine’s appearance time and impact. With Silva’s head turned by Everton’s advances, the team’s form dipped and Pereyra, forced into a position on the bench, was stuck on one goal and one assist until Javi Gracia finally took over.
Gracia’s first home game was against Chelsea, with Pereyra introduced for Richarlison just after the hour. The final ten minutes saw a Hazard equalizer before three goals from the Hornets – Janmaat jinked through the Blues’ defence before playing a one-two with Pereyra and firing home and Gerard Deulofeu scored another spectacular goal, before the evening was capped off by Bobby P feinting a shot before firing into the far corner.
As the season played out, he added another three goals and one assist as his game time and influence slowly increased. His season mirrored the team’s – three goals in the first four games before dipping with some blips of good performance, most notably the second goal in a comprehensive away win at Wolves and scoring against Huddersfield in the following home game. However, it was becoming apparent that Roberto, whilst overcoming the physical aspect of his injuries, did not appear to have got over the mental hurdle of trusting his body not to break down in the harum-scarum of English football, and aside from two assists against West Ham and a goal against Chelsea either side of Christmas, he provided no more ‘goal contributions’ in the League. Again, this mirrored the club’s League form, but the FA Cup run papered over the cracks, and a fine assist for Andre Gray to win the home quarter-final against Palace would prove to be the highlight of his season’s contribution as from February he picked up niggling injuries that disrupted any developing form.
His season’s defining moment, unfairly, would be during the FA Cup Final against Manchester City, where at 0-0 he was put through one-on-one with Ederson and failed to capitalise. Perhaps not a ‘sliding doors’ moment due to City’s overwhelming superiority on the day, but it would have given us something to defend and perhaps some belief that we could have got a result. Just perhaps.
His final season saw him score three times and miss a number of games through a hamstring injury. As he became less effective, he went back increasingly to the bench. Relegation was confirmed on the final day and Roberto returned to Udinese easing Watford’s wage bill.