Craig Cathcart failed to impress during his first spell at Watford but five years older and more experienced, the centre half is ready to show he is a vastly improved player second time around.
Cathcart was 20 when he first arrived at Vicarage Road during Malky Mackay’s reign in 2009 but after 12 starts, his loan spell was ended prematurely due to a knee injury.
The centre half did not disgrace himself during his three-month stay in Hertfordshire but was unable to show the talent which persuaded Manchester United to sign him as a teenager and then give him a professional contract.
Cathcart had previous experience on loan at Belgium second division side Royal Antwerp and was a regular for Plymouth Argyle during the 2008/09 season when they survived relegation.
But that summer Cathcart was set for a permanent move away from Old Trafford and, by his own admission, wasn’t in the right place mentally when he arrived at Vicarage Road.
He explained: “It was a difficult time for me to be honest, because I was about to leave United and things didn’t happen and I was put out on loan, so I didn’t really know where I was at that stage in my career.
“The season after, I moved to Blackpool and I knew where my head was. I think I’ve definitely improved as a player in the last four years. I’ve gained experience and played a few Premier League games and gained plenty of experience of the Championship and I definitely think I can help Watford.”
Cathcart didn’t play another competitive game during the 2009/10 season after he left Watford in December but Sir Alex Ferguson was again reluctant to let him leave United when Blackpool came calling in the summer of 2010.
The then Premier League side paid a reported £350,000 for Cathcart and both the player and his new club excelled for a large part of that season before just two wins in their last 18 matches resulted in relegation, which was the first time in eight years that a club had gone down after reaching 39 points.
The Tangerines almost secured an immediate return via the play-offs, when they missed glorious chances in the final before West Ham United scored a late winner.
A 15th place finish followed and then last season they just survived relegation.
Blackpool currently have a depleted squad and are favourites for relegation and with his contract expiring, Cathcart decided he wanted a change.
He said: “I’d been at Blackpool for four years and my contract had expired and I just felt like it was the right time to do something new.
“The last two years were quite difficult at Blackpool; they’ve struggled the last two seasons and been close to relegation. It was the right time for me [to leave] and obviously I’ve got ambitions, personal ambitions, which Watford have matched.”
Cathcart was speaking from the club’s pre-season training camp in Udine, Italy, two days after it was announced he had signed a two-year contract.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “I spoke to the club a couple of weeks ago and they told me what they wanted to do going forward and that matched my ambition as well.”
The Golden Boys are targeting a promotion challenge next season following a disappointing campaign last time out.
Cathcart has been joined this summer by vastly experienced goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, Romanian international Gabriel Tamas, Championship winning Lloyd Dyer and the 2013 Championship Player of the Year Matej Vydra.
Cathcart said: “You can tell that [the club are looking to secure promotion] by the way things are set up now. The talent in the dressing room and the players they’ve got here, it’s definitely all geared towards a big promotion push this season and I wanted to be part of that.”
Fellow Championship sides Huddersfield Town and Bolton Wanderers were also among the clubs said to be keen on Cathcart, who can play at right back as well as centre half.
With a wife and children to consider, where he wanted to ply his trade was an important decision for Cathcart but knowing the club and the area was a factor in opting for the move south.
But the Golden Boys’ keen interest on the player was also crucial.
He said: “There were not many one hundred per cent offers. You know what it’s like, you get people saying they might be interested here and there but as soon as I came and spoke to Watford, they showed they were really interested and they put an offer on the table straightaway, so that was a definite factor for me as well; it showed how keen they were to get me.”
He continued: “My wife and my two kids will be coming down with me. It was obviously a big decision for me and my family but it’s one we’re really looking forward to and knowing the area a little bit from last time obviously helps a little bit.”
The manager – and job title – has changed since Cathcart was last with the Hornets but the 25-year-old has been impressed by head coach Beppe Sannino so far.
In May Sannino stressed he would be improving his English over the summer and appears to have been true to his word.
Cathcart said: “He introduced himself to me the first day I got here and he was pretty positive and he’s been really good so far, so I’m looking forward to working with him.”
On the language, he added: “To be fair, his English is not too bad. Obviously I wasn’t here last year so I don’t know how he’s come along but he’s definitely getting better from what a few of the players are saying.”
Cathcart continued: “He (Sannino) might need a little bit of help but with all the team talks he’s been trying his best to do them in English and all the lads have understood him so far.”
Cathcart said the issue with his enlarged heart which kept him out of the play-off semi-final first leg in 2012 was “completely blown out of proportion” and admitted he was disappointed with manager Ian Holloway for making it a big issue.
He has never played more than 33 competitive club games in a season but insists he is 100 per cent fit and has no injury problems at all.
Cathcart says he is looking forward to having a productive pre-season and knows he faces stiff competition as he tries to secure a starting place for the Championship opener against Bolton Wanderers on August 9.
He said: “The manager spoke to us on the first day and said every player is on the same level and he’ll make decisions on how pre-season goes and training.
“Obviously there are a lot of quality players so everyone will have to be at the top of their game to get in the starting 11 which can only be a good thing for Watford.”