Watford gained Premier League promotion after a year away and their summer business has certainly caught the eye in recent weeks for varying reasons.
The Hornets’ signing of Emmanuel Dennis from Club Brugge raised a few eyebrows owing to the underwhelming nature of the forward’s last campaign, which included a rather torrid spell in the Bundesliga with Koln.
Despite the reservations about the new boy’s attitude, Goal explained the logic behind the forward’s acquisition, whose finest hour to date were those pair of goals against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
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In early July, Xisco’s team completed the temporary signing of Oghenekaro Etebo from Stoke City for the 2021/22 season.
Given the Premier League’s popularity in Nigeria, this is a positive move for the diligent midfielder. His move to Stoke in 2018 was met with criticism and some admiration, with observers either reckoning he should have decided on his future after the World Cup or understanding why a switch to England had its merits at the time.
The midfielder’s arrival in Hertfordshire prompted interesting comments from Amaju Pinnick, president of Nigeria Football Federation.
“Watford FC is gradually becoming a Super Eagles camp,” said Pinnick as per a statement made available to Goal by the NFF media department. “I told Mr Giaretta that we have six players at Watford FC now and three of them are regular Super Eagles teamers and therefore, we need to forge a stronger relationship with the club.
“Watford are returning to the Premier League in the coming season, so it is a good feeling all around.”
While the initial statement may have been a tad hyperbolic, the presence of so many Nigerians at Vicarage Road immediately increases the interest in the club from enthusiasts in the West African nation.
Throw in the Super Eagles status of William Troost-Ekong and his important role under Xisco in the promotion campaign, instantly making him the most eye-catching West African from the glut of players.
Tom Dele-Bashiru, Isaac Success and Scotland youth international of Nigerian descent Dapo Mebude comprise other players who hail from the populous nation, and the latter’s recent claim reminded fans why they might consciously or unwittingly root for the Hornets next season.
“[Watford are] a massive club, I have watched them in the Premier League for a few years,” Mebude told the club's official portal. “I have been a fan of the Premier League and watched players like Troy Deeney, and Odion Ighalo who is a countryman of mine, so there are a lot of things that attracted me.”
In truth, the ex-Manchester United striker’s time at the club increased their popularity among supporters of the country, with his performances and goals causing several people to tune in whenever Watford played.
Ighalo, by and large, got Nigerians invested in the Hertfordshire club when he thrived and the current situation could prompt a similar reaction, if not higher.
Admittedly, the influx of new players suggests Xisco may still have to let players leave either on loan or permanently and Success’ position at the club is precarious. The forward’s injury hell meant he missed a chunk of their promotion year, and while he would love to prove himself, game time cannot be promised in 21/22.
Troost-Ekong’s journey to the Premier League is particularly charming. He didn’t make the grade at Fulham or Tottenham Hotspur, leaving him to put his dream of playing PL football on ice for around a decade.
The 27-year-old gave up Serie A football at Udinese for a move to Watford, a transfer that might have surprised some but made sense to the defender. Aside from his ambition to play in English football’s top division was an inclination to be closer to his family.
After the irrepressible Ismaila Sarr netted to seal the Hornets’ 1-0 win over Millwall which confirmed their elevation to the Prem, the ex-Bursaspor man couldn’t hide his happiness.
“It’s amazing. I can’t really put words to it now,” said Troost-Ekong, speaking in the moments after Watford sealed promotion. “It’s one of the best days in my life and my career so far. We worked so hard for it and now we’ve done it, so I’m really pleased for all the boys.”
In 21/22, Nigerians will root for the perceived-to-be problematic Dennis, the tenacious Etebo and the defensive rock that is Troost-Ekong.
Ighalo got fans invested in Watford, but the aforementioned triumvirate ought to take that interest up a notch as Xisco seeks to withstand the Premier League pressure cooker.