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Dennis, Troost-Ekong, Kalu and Okoye: How can Watford’s Nigerian contingent recover?

2:22 PM GMT+8 04/05/2022
Watford's Dennis, Troost-Ekong, Kalu, Okoye
With the Hornets’ Premier League relegation all but confirmed, it remains to be seen what happens to the current stars and future arrivals at the club

Regardless of any ill-feeling for Watford, a great deal of sympathy may have been felt for the Hornets after Burnley’s quick-fire double in the final 10 minutes all but confirmed their immediate Premier League relegation.

Goals from Jack Cork and Josh Brownhill in minutes 83 and 86 turned a game that seemed to be ending 1-0 to Roy Hodgson’s men on its head. Rather than end the gameweek six points from safety, the Hertfordshire outfit head into the final four games of 2021/22 10 points behind Everton, who have a game outstanding.

Rubbing salt to their wounds was the unwanted record they set in the process, becoming the first top flight side to lose 11 successive games on their turf.

The upshot of the weekend’s results at the bottom means Hodgson’s team effectively need the sides above them to pick up no points from their last four games (five for Frank Lampard’s men) in the run-in, whilst winning the next 12 points. Frankly, the realistic chance of the stars aligning for the Hornets is slim, if not impossible.

With another short-lived stay in the Premier League near-certain, Watford will have been relegated in three of the four seasons after gaining promotion.

Following previous relegations, only once did they return immediately (this term having finished in the bottom three in 2019/20), thus spending one campaign in the Championship last season.

There were mitigating circumstances for their swift return, particularly the short turnaround between the climax of 19/20 and the start of 2020/21 which meant the Hornets did not lose their best players. Parachute payments also meant the Hornets were aided somewhat as clubs bled funds owing to the effects of the pandemic.

If keeping Ismaila Sarr for the 20/21 campaign was a win at the time, then having Emmanuel Dennis at the club for what would be a tougher battle to return to the big time has to count as an equivalent success.

Without a doubt, the former Club Brugge forward’s debut Premier League season has been one of the club’s few positives in a season that barely got off the ground after that opening day success against Aston Villa. Admittedly, the 4-1 success over Manchester United was the Hornets’ finest moment, but supporters would trade that victory over the Red Devils if it promised more home victories.

Dennis played important roles in the aforementioned victories and has arguably done enough in one season to angle for a move away when Watford go down. The forward has played a direct part in 16 goals (10 goals, six assists), outdone by only nine players in the entire division.

This accounts for 50 percent of the strugglers’ 32 strikes, further demonstrating his importance in a topsy-turvy campaign.

While a transfer away from Hertfordshire could materialise for the marksman, what would the immediate future hold for William Troost-Ekong, Samuel Kalu and Maduka Okoye?

The centre-back has not kicked a ball for the club since featuring in a 1-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in January. Hodgson has preferred Samir, Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele for two spots in central defence, leaving Troost-Ekong with no appearance since New Year’s Day having featured in 16 of the first 18 fixtures.

With his contract running until 2025, shifting the defender may be complicated.

For Kalu and Okoye, eyebrows are raised and their rationale for opting for the struggling side beggar’s belief.

When the goalkeeper’s move was confirmed in early November last year, Watford were sat in 17th spot, two points outside the drop zone and five points ahead of a Newcastle United team that had just been taken over by a Saudi-led consortium that promised heavy investment that the Hornets were never going to match.

Admittedly, the Sparta Rotterdam man had not started his second year in the Eredivisie as he ended his first but having reportedly been monitored by Ajax in his debut campaign in the league, there is a feeling Nigeria’s number one could have done better than opt for a struggling side on a long-term five-and-a-half-year contract.

A couple of months later, with Hodgson’s cellar-dwelling men on an eight-game winless run at the time (seven defeats), Kalu moved to Vicarage Road on a three-and-a-half-year deal. Opting for a transfer to a side whose top-flight status was precarious was strange and a subsequent dearth of game time since that move in which he has played 46 minutes altogether has prompted further questions over the odd switch.

Watford’s Nigerian contingent are likely to play in the Championship in 2021/22, a situation that will frustrate fans of the Super Eagles who were pleased by the nation’s representation in arguably Europe’s most competitive league.

Dennis might retain his status as a top flight player having largely been transformed from the villainous bad boy to thrive despite the obvious challenges faced by the Hornets.

The latter trio may not get so lucky, though, and will have to stay and fight for an instant return to the big time. Whether this succeeds is anyone’s guess.