Troy Deeney plays his biggest ever match this weekend. Can we forget the ‘redemption’ rubbish and just appreciate his talents?
How long does redemption take? That’s a question you’re forced to consider if you’ve ever read anything about Troy Deeney, Watford’s no-nonsense captain and talisman, who, for the last seven years, has been chasing redemption, destiny and a fairytale ending.
Or so they say.
The framing of Deeney as football’s number one redemption seeker goes back to 2012 when the forward spent three months in prison for affray.
Two years into his Watford career at the time, Deeney served a fraction of a 10-month sentence before leaving prison with a new attitude and, curiously, a greater aptitude for scoring goals: having bagged 15 across two seasons prior to his sentence, he would hit the 20-goal mark in each of his next three campaigns. By 2014, a key figure on and off the pitch, he would be Watford’s captain.
But since coming out of prison, Deeney has — according to various sections of the media — been on a permanent quest for ‘redemption’.
It’s a funny concept, especially when applied to the act of kicking a ball around, but it simply won’t go away.
At the end of the 2012-13 season, less than a year after his sentencing, Deeney helped Watford to the Championship play-off final by scoring a dramatic winner in the semi against Leicester.
Given the recency of his jail term, it was obvious how the media were going to frame his appearance in the final against Crystal Palace.
“Watford’s Deeney earns a shot at redemption and the Premier League after a spell in prison,” read the Daily Mail’s headline.
The Telegraph went further, describing potential promotion to the top flight as the “ultimate redemption” for the striker. In fact, Jim White really stressed the point in his lede, suggesting that Deeney had secured a healthy amount of redemption already:
Redemption is a word used lightly in football. A club beating their old rivals, a manager outwitting the side who sacked him, a player returning from injury: all are gifted the phrase. But when Troy Deeney smacked home the last-second goal against Leicester… no other word will do to describe his deliriously received achievement. His really is football’s redemption song.
Deeney, however, was less keen on putting his jail experience into the narrative. “I don’t want to go back into last year,” he said. “It’s done and dusted. We have moved on and it’s a fairytale ending now.”
Except, come the play-off final, Watford lost. It was a setback for the ambitious, promotion-chasing club and a fairytale ending of the most unsatisfying kind. But it was consequential in other ways too.
If we were to believe the hype, the play-off defeat must have placed Deeney in ‘redemption’ limbo.
By almost achieving promotion, had he redeemed himself or not? Must he continue seeking atonement for his sins by scoring well-hit penalties, having cojones and generally putting himself in the mixer?
The media narrative suggested he must.
In 2015, two years on from play-off near miss, Watford were on the brink of promotion again, and Deeney was again pressed on whether Premier League football would be a fitting conclusion to his prison story.
“That would be the fairytale ending,” he admitted for a second time. “I’m just going to keep working and hopefully that fairytale can come true.”
This time, it did.
Watford won promotion, presumably giving Deeney his absolution and closing the book on his peculiar fairytale. Having been to the very depths, he had now risen to the top. Sins well and truly atoned for.
It’s surprising then, and more than a little distracting, that many still frame Deeney’s achievements in terms of ‘redemption’.
Troy, the redeemer
The official programme for this weekend’s FA Cup Final contains an interview with Deeney. It begins like this:
From being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure seven years ago to shaking the hand of HRH The Duke of Cambridge at Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup Final, few stories can rival Troy Deeney’s in terms of redemption.
Few indeed. Just as he did in 2013, however, Deeney has attempted to draw a line under his past.
“What’s done is done,” he says in the programme. “I’ve spoken to death about going to jail. It’ll always be with me, always be a part of me and I’ll never run from it. I’ll never shirk the fact it happened.
“But I’d rather look at the positive, and to be captaining a side in an FA Cup Final seven years later is a big, big achievement.”
Deeney often seems happy to talk candidly about his past. But if there’s a hint of frustration in that answer, it’s easy to see why.
Because while you can draw some kind of narrative arc over the last seven years of his life — inasmuch as something bad happened in 2012 and some good things have happened since — reducing Deeney’s present achievements to atonement is demeaning.
It also doesn’t make any sense.
No footballer can become a better or worse person through their performances on the pitch, just as no transgression or act of kindness can make a footballer more or less valuable in sporting terms.
If Deeney has redeemed himself, it is through his off-pitch actions and charitable foundation, not through stoppage-time winning goals or whatever he is capable of doing in the 2019 FA Cup final.
There is simply not an inch of overlap between morality and sport.
Deeney the footballer — a brutally effective target man, great in the air with a thunderbastard of a shot — deserves praise because he’s brilliant to watch, brilliant to listen to and a genuinely one-of-a-kind player in today’s Premier League. Not because he’s done penance for the past.