Promoted to the Premier League. Transfer record smashed. Dutch U-21 star. Pace to burn. Bag of tricks. Superb dreadlocks.
There were many reasons for Watford fans to be excited about the signing of Nordin Wooter in September 1999. The winger’s £950,000 arrival from Real Zaragoza was the kind of transfer coup the Hornets had never made before - an expensive, exotic foreign import with a reputation for wing wizardry and the same haircut as The Predator.
It was enough to unsettle Graeme Le Saux, who was booked for a foul on Wooter 30 seconds into the Dutchman’s Premier League debut against Chelsea - a famous 1-0 win for Graham Taylor’s unfashionable side.
“On his day he was a great player,” said one Watford fan on the WFC Forums website. Unfortunately, Wooter’s day would not come around very often.
As another Hornets fan elaborated: “Nordin offered to cook me a spaghetti Bolognese once. It looked nice, it smelt nice but tasted awful. He’d forgotten to buy the tomatoes! Typical Nordin, always lacking the final product.”
Which is a rather convoluted way of saying what another Watford fan managed in three words: “He was s***e.”
Except Wooter clearly wasn’t without ability, with his mazy runs and flair often outfoxing opposition full-backs.
“He always seemed to give defenders a really tough time, they never knew what he was doing and he could appear unplayable. Unfortunately our strikers never seemed to know what he was doing either so generally his crosses were either too late or too early,” was one summary of Wooter.
Another fan described him as: “A scientist, utterly dedicated to discovering the exact point between a cross and a shot. He was very good at this, but not much else.”
Wooter had begun his career at the famed Ajax academy, back when the Amsterdam side were still a force to be reckoned with in Europe. Aged 19, he appeared as a substitute in the 1996 Champions League final against Juventus, which the Italian side won on penalties.
His pedigree was without question, but as his Watford team-mate Allan Smart recently confessed, “He was at Ajax and you did wonder why’s he playing with us if he’s that good.”
The answer was kind of obvious: he wasn’t.
“The human corkscrew. Went around and around and around in circles. I expect him to be nearly at the earth’s core by now,” was another fan’s description - one of many to allude to Wooter’s indefatigable dedication to dribbling for dribbling’s sake.
“He never seemed content to beat a player and run past him, more often than not he seemed to go back and try to beat him again, and often didn’t,” said one Hornet.
Another concurred: “He did a lot of stepovers, occasionally beating his man, then he would take them on again for some strange reason and lose the ball. The most frustrating player I’ve ever watched!”
As did another: “I remember against Man Utd at Old Trafford in 99/00, he pretty much went through their whole midfield, then turned around and tried to do it again. And lost the ball.”
The picture that emerges is of an artiste, content to paint beautiful pictures on the pitch rather than chasing such base pleasures as goals and assists.
Off the pitch, Wooter also displayed a certain flair, as one eyewitness recounted: “He was a bit flash. I once saw him driving down the Hempstead Road, wearing sunglasses, in a BMW convertible, with his dreadlocks flowing in the wind. I remember thinking he looked like Stevie Wonder.”
Watford were soundly relegated that season, with Wooter reduced to a bit-part role by the end of a demoralising campaign. But rather than driving off into the sunset like Stevie Wonder, Wooter stuck around for the club’s First Division promotion bid.
And it was here that his artistry came to glorious fruition in one solitary, mind-blowing moment. During a match against Norwich at Vicarage Road, Wooter cut inside from the right touchline and bamboozled four defenders before finishing with aplomb. It was a strike not unlike Diego Maradona’s World Cup solo goal against England. (Honestly, it really was.) As the Watford fanzine Blind, Stupid and Desperate reported: “It was precisely the goal he’d been promising to score for more than eighteen months.”
Unfortunately, the wonderstrike did not herald a transformation of Wooter’s career in England. He started just three more games for Watford before returning to Holland with RBC Roosendaal. He saw out the remainder of his career in the leagues of Portugal, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, with mediocre results.
Wooter’s former team-mate Smart lamented the waste of talent: “He was a genius. He could do anything with a football.” It’s just a shame that his genius was misunderstood, and the only thing he wanted to do with a football was hog it.
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