Watford have confirmed the signing of 27-year-old center-back William Troost-Ekong from Udinese. The deal sees the captain of the Nigerian International Team join Watford on a 5-year contract. Watford and Udinese, both of which are owned by the Pozzo family, had been in talks about a move regarding Troost-Ekong for a couple of weeks. Roberto Pereyra recently left Watford for Udinese on a permanent basis, so perhaps the clubs will consider this to be a modified player-swap.
The experienced center-back came through Tottenham’s youth levels, before transferring on a permanent basis to FC Groningen in 2013 to be one of their potential replacements for recently-departed (at the time) Virgil Van Dijk. After being loaned out to FC Dordrecht, also in the Netherlands, he moved to Belgium to join KAA Gent. He was subsequently loaned out to FK Haugesund in the Eliteserien (the Norwegian first tier) for 1.5 seasons. After struggling to break into the KAA Gent first team, he made a move to Bursaspor in Turkey, where he impressed in his 31 appearances for them in the 2017/18 season. Udinese watched him closely, and then secured a move for Troost-Ekong worth around 2.5 million pounds in the summer of 2018. He immediately became an ever-present for Udinese, playing in 65 Serie A matches.
What To Expect:
William Troost-Ekong’s arrival will prove to be a shrewd bit of business by the Watford hierarchy. Firstly, Troost-Ekong has already proved he is worthy of playing top-flight football, so if Watford do get promoted at the end of this season, he will play a pivotal part in that first Premier League campaign. Arguably even more notable than his top-flight experience is the fact that Troost-Ekong captains a talented Nigerian International Team, which includes the likes of world-class stars such as Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Osimhen. So, there is no doubting Troost-Ekong’s ability to perform with the very best, as well as there being no questioning of whether or not he can be a key leader in a recently-relegated team that is drastically lowering the age of the squad.
The main questions regarding this signing come in the discussion of whether or not he will be a consistent starter for the Hornets. After all, Craig Cathcart, Ben Wilmot, and Christian Kabasele, under Ivic’s 3 center-back formations, are yet to concede in the league. Craig Dawson is still on Watford’s books (for now, though a move away is not off of the cards), and Francisco Sierralta is also competing for minutes. Moreover, Ivic is known to prefer a 4-3-3 formation, so if Ivic decides to utilize his most familiar setup, then not only will there be the conundrum of who Troost-Ekong might replace, for there will be a dilemma in deciding who should be dropped from a so-far nearly-flawless center-back trio.
The 6’3” defender was teammates with Ben Wilmot during the 2018/19 season, so assimilation into first team training will certainly not be an issue. Once Troost-Ekong is up to match fitness and has learned Ivic’s playing style, he will have no issues immediately competing for, and receiving, plenty of first-team action. One of his strong suits is his high-percentage passing/being sound on the ball. Considering Luton’s best chance of the last match came from a poor pass out of the back, sure-fire distribution is still a quality the backline will need to improve upon.
Once the fixture intensity ramps up (such as playing 7 matches between October 16th and November 11th), there will need to be plenty of rotation amongst the center-backs. Even if Ivic goes to a 2 center-back formation, there needs to be at least 4 reliable players to step in when called upon. Troost-Ekong, a natural leader who will likely thrive when he frequently gets onto the pitch, most certainly fits the bill in terms of reliability and class.