27-year-old Dutch-born Nigerian international defender William Troost-Ekong took the unlikely step back in his professional career to leave the top-flight of Italy’s Serie A for England’s second tier in the summer. His switch from Udinese to Watford raised plenty of eyebrows, but already he has become a lynchpin at the heart of the Hornets’ bid for an immediate return to the promised land of the English Premier League (EPL).
Having played much of his youth football with London-based academies at Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, a switch to the northern fringes of the capital and Watford has certainly not phased Troost-Ekong in the slightest. The vice-captain of the Nigeria national team is an ambitious character and despite signing a long-term deal until 2025 at Vicarage Road, he insists he will reconsider his future next summer if Watford fail to return to the EPL at the first time of asking.
The Hornets are priced as low as +550 with US sports betting platforms to secure the EFL Championship title this season, although the likes of FOX Bet do have Bournemouth priced a shade lower at +320 and Norwich even shorter than that at the time of writing. After their opening 12 league games, the Hornets racked up 22 points, averaging just shy of the magic two points per game that is usually required to secure automatic promotion from this division.
Troost-Ekong is a big fan of Hornets boss Vladimir Ivic
Troost-Ekong has already waxed lyrical about working with Watford’s new head coach Vladimir Ivic, the Serbian who has been a major footballing icon in both his home country and in Greece through the years. He was recently interviewed by Watford’s official matchday live stream, Hive Live, and praised the way Ivic always “makes it clear what he expects from [them]”.
Those open lines of communication are something that Troost-Ekong believes is an invaluable trait in a football manager. He admitted that although many outsiders in football circles may view Ivic as “a serious person”, Troost-Ekong insists he always “speaks to the players” openly and “keeps everyone in the loop” about his upcoming plans. This includes his rotational policy, which is both a frustration and a necessity, even for players like Troost-Ekong with such a heavy fixture schedule in the shortened 2020/21 Championship season.
Troost-Ekong impresses against fellow Nigerian Osayi-Samuel
Vladimir Ivic is typically using a 3-5-2 system with the Hornets, which suits Troost-Ekong’s cultured style of play down to the ground. He was recently part of a three-man central defence alongside Ben Wilmot and Craig Cathcart in the Hornets’ battling 1-1 draw with London rivals QPR. Troost-Ekong made four key clearances and blocked one shot to help his team to a share of the spoils. Meanwhile his Anglo-Nigerian compatriot Bright Osayi-Samuel looked dangerous on the wing for QPR during his 69-minute display, with four dangerous dribbles and one key pass.
Troost-Ekong and Watford have a difficult run of fixtures looming in December. Trips to Nottingham Forest and Millwall are book-ended by testing home games against Cardiff, Brentford and current league leaders Norwich. If Ivic’s men can stay in touch with the automatic promotion places after December’s hectic eight-game schedule, there is every chance they will be able to kick on and contend for the top two in January and beyond.
There is still plenty of talent and experience in the Watford squad, aside from Troost-Ekong. Former England international keeper Ben Foster is a calming presence in goal, while there is plenty of power and pace in attack in the shape of Ismaila Sarr, captain Troy Deeney, Andre Gray and young Brazilian prodigy Joao Pedro. Senegalese winger Sarr was the subject of transfer interest from a handful of EPL clubs before the closure of the summer transfer window. However the Hornets’ £45m valuation eventually scared off his suitors.
The aim for Vladimir Ivic now is to refocus his attacking options on the task at hand and playing their way back into the EPL next summer.