With six Nigerian players in their fold,Vicarage Road is fast turning a new home to Super Eagles players, and the NFF boss, Amaju Pinnick attested to it. It was therefore no surprise that three of them-Emmanuel Dennis, William Troost-Ekong and Oghenekaro Etebo were on parade in the opening week of the Premier League and they all gave a good account of themselves with Dennis scoring the opener in Watford ‘s 3-2 defeat of Aston Villa
When Tosin Adarabioyo, Ola Aina, Ademola Lookman and Josh Maja were all paraded in the Fulham team last season, it was seen as something unprecedented, at least from the Nigerian football perspective.
Little did anyone know that the feat was just a dress rehearsal to what would happen a season later, after Watford signed six Nigerian players in its fold, which of course has prompted an unconscious support for the Vicarage Road club.
Having gained Premier League promotion after a year away, Watford’s 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.
Dennis, whose finest hour to date were those pair of goals against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu however justified his signing by scoring the first goal in the Premier League win against Aston Villa.
After the match, the Nigerian said playing alongside Ismaila Sarr would be vital for his success this season.
“We get along well in training when we play together and I know he’s going to be really important for me if I’m going to be in the number nine,” Dennis told the club website.
“I’m really happy with the combination. It’s a process, so I’m really happy we started in a good way and we keep working.”
After just 10 minutes of the match, Dennis had swept the ball beneath Emiliano Martinez in the Villa goal to open his Watford account and it’s a moment he says he will never forget.
“I’ll remember this for all my life,” he added.
“I’m speechless; I don’t know what to say. We have energy, I’m really happy because we’ve been working hard for a really long time so I’m happy we could give the fans a good performance and they can go home smiling.”
Despite two goals in 23 appearances for Club Brugge and Köln, a challenging time in Germany and alleged attitude problems, Watford have taken a gamble on Dennis.
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 president of Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick.
“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 Cristiano Giaretta (Watford Sporting Director) 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 Nigeria.
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 Premier League 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 Premier League, 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 interested in Watford, but the aforementioned triumvirate ought to take that interest up a notch as Xisco seeks to withstand the Premier League pressure cooker.