It was in January 2016 that Watford completed the signing of a South American prodigy. One that had already made his mark in European football and had taken a La Liga record away from a certain Lionel Messi.
Such was the promise of the Venezuelan teenager that Hornets CEO Scott Duxbury, a man not prone to hyperbole, went on record to claim Adalberto Peñaranda would soon be worth more than six times the £8million they paid to Granada.
“Peñaranda can become a £50million player over the next four years,” he told WD Sport prior to the 18-year-old’s arrival at Vicarage Road.
“So we brought him in early, relatively cheap. There were lots of football clubs looking around him, looking to purchase him. He’s an amazing talent. We are very, very excited.”
The Hertfordshire club’s faith in Peñaranda was clear. Unfortunately, the UK home office didn’t feel the same way. The versatile attacker wasn’t granted a work permit. His Watford career went on hiatus before it had even started.
And so began a two-year spell away from Vicarage Road – first with Hornets’ sister club Udinese and then La Liga side Málaga – in which he made 23 appearances and failed to score.
Many a club would have given up on Peñaranda. Not Watford. They continued to push for a work permit and in November it was granted. The 21-year-old would, finally, be able to play for the club he had joined almost three years earlier.
Yet he was kept waiting by Javi Gracia. “I think he needs time,” the Spaniard said. “Only by training hard during in the coming weeks will he be in the best condition. I think he’s a very good player for us and I’m sure he will help us.”
Last Sunday, Peñaranda’s moment arrived. You imagine it wasn’t quite what he pictured when he signed back in 2016 – Woking, away, in the FA Cup third round – but it was the opportunity he had waited so patiently for.
So what of the performance? Peñaranda was effective but not decisive. Yes, he was up against sixth-tier opposition but expectations should have been tempered – this was the first competitive game he had played since January 12, 2018.
Only in the coming weeks and months, when he is fully fit and integrated into the first-team squad, will the time be right to truly judge Peñaranda.