In January, Nigerians took to Watford’s Twitter page to rain slurs and insults as the Hornets refused to allow Emmanuel Dennis team up with the Super Eagles
Nigerians had savoured the prospects of having their best players at the AFCON in Cameroon. The piquant prospect of seeing Dennis, Osimhen, Ighalo and others was alluring. It was understandable what their frustrations were when Dennis wasn’t released.
His form in the Premier League was instructive enough for the Super Eagles and his absence was dubbed a big miss despite not particularly impressing on his previous forays.
The absence of Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo made Watford’s actions more unforgivable, to Nigerians.
Three months after Nigeria suffered an early exit in Cameroon, Dennis had an opportunity to represent the Super Eagles again and show what the team missed. He flattered to deceive.
Nigeria faced Ghana at the World Cup qualifiers and the forward played in both games, starting the first leg in Kumasi as a substitute.
The second leg in Abuja saw Austin Eguavoen give Dennis a starting berth, but in minutes, Nigerians realised not much had been missed after all.
The former Club Brugge star could partly be blamed for not closing down Thomas Partey before he took the shot that was handled poorly by Francis Uzoho. That goal ultimately denied the Super Eagles a World Cup ticket.
To heap the blame of Nigeria’s World Cup miss on one player would be unfair but Dennis on the day showed he’s not a player that could be relied upon in such settings.
His reaction to the game spelt relaxation, far from the weight of expectations of more than 60,000 people in the stands and millions watching from home.
He had been hailed to high heavens as a man on fire, thanks to his impressive goals return in the first half of the Premier League.
While he struggled in the second half of last season, he managed to show glimpses of what he could be on his day. His day, however, isn’t usually the team’s.
Between facts, stats and… nutmegs
Dennis contributed to almost 50% of Watford’s goals last season, scoring 10 times and assisting 6 in 33 games. It is Dennis’ best career return to date. While that signifies a player with a sizable return, and a statistic good enough to send tongues wagging, the transfer window has shown that’s not the case.
As at April, just a month before the end of the season, he had recorded the highest number of nutmegs with 17, a stat also shared by Watford which had the highest number of nutmegs of any club in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
The Hornets suffered relegation.
A few clubs have shown interest in Dennis but there’s no concrete offer on the table for the Nigerian and his casual approach to games can’t be ignored as being partly responsible for this.
In the Premier League where he had a decent first season, he has shown some of his biggest weaknesses but has also recorded some of his best strengths. At 24, he has had flashes of brilliance, like his brace against Real Madrid in the Champions League and some incredible moments at Watford, but his best years are ahead. Improvement is of the utmost importance.
He has shown the greatest danger when playing from the left flank and cutting into his right and also when playing as a centre forward. His less than average passing ability and struggle when playing with his back to goal, however means he’s not as effective in many situations.
His Whoscored rating of 6.12 as a right forward is the lowest of every position he took last season. He was rated 7.01 as a forward left player, higher than his average of 6.89 and a proof of his potency in that area. Through the middle, he’s rated 7.0.
The problem despite this strong evidence of his ability is how important his qualities are to potential suitors. For the player, he has to join a club where playing time is assured, and that’s not a given in the Premier League where the level of competition is choking.
While there have been continuous links with West Ham and Leeds in the past weeks, how both sides will set up with a Dennis in their fold looks rather interesting.
David Moyes has built an attack around Michail Antonio, Jarod Bowen and Said Benrahma and may be extremely reluctant to pull a change to a working system. All three players had fairly decent seasons last term.
At Leeds, Jesse March’s last-ditch relegation survival also means he will be looking at players who can help sustain the team and make it stronger.
The signing of Luis Sinisterra from Feyenoord is a pointer to where the American is aiming at improving his squad.
Everton and Newcastle have also been mentioned as potential destinations but Watford must be willing to lower their valuation which has been set at £20m.
Dennis offers viable solutions for teams that need what he has but the reality of his ability borders between two worlds.
On his best days, he could be in the mix, providing answers to deep questions and showing he could be reliable. But in most cases, the bitter truth that he’s not everything the numbers suggest strikes one in the face, as discovered by fans of the Super Eagles in the friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador, and in the AFCON qualifiers.
“He (Dennis) and Sarr are very individualistic players and we have worked hard with them and the rest of the team to get them to bring their straw to the water when it comes to team play and I didn’t see any massive errors from them on that part (against Brentford). Dennis will feel pleased with his performance because he was quite dangerous and he scored a goal,” Roy Hodgson told TheAthletic after Watford defeated Brentford last year.
The ‘menace’ is good, but his ability is by no means messianic and the window suggests it. What the coming days hold will soon be seen and it’s hoped he stays on the path of his strength.