28 appearances. 19 goals. 18 assists. Six penalties won. One dream. Philip Zinckernagel’s 2020 campaign with Bodo/Glimt in the Eliteserien (Norwegian top-flight) earned him plenty of interest from clubs in more prominent European leagues. Watford snapped him up in the recent January transfer window as his contract expired – a move widely accepted as a brilliant piece of business.
Upon joining, Zinckernagel said, “I always dreamed of playing in the big leagues; the top five in Spain, Italy, England…for me, Watford belong in the Premier League.” Now that the Hornets achieved the promotion he hoped for when joining, the Dane, who wore the number seven kit at Vicarage Road, had the opportunity to make his Premier League dreams come true. Watford would have tremendously benefitted from having a versatile, creative player such as Zinckernagel in their squad. However, a recent transfer decision put Zinckernagel’s dreams on hold, something which could prove to be a nightmare for Watford for multiple reasons.
Already Showing Signs of Excellence on Loan
In Zinckernagel’s first two appearances for Nottingham Forest after signing on loan, he has already made an unmissable impact. Within minutes of coming on in his club debut against Coventry City, he whipped in a teasing corner kick which almost found its way into the back of the net. His second match for Chris Hughton’s side was a Carabao Cup clash against Bradford. The 26-year-old provided two pinpoint assists for Joao Carvalho. The first of Zinckernagel’s two assists was so impressive that the squad ran over to him, instead of Carvalho, to celebrate the goal.
A cameo off of the bench against Coventry City and a match against a League Two side is nowhere near enough to conclude Zinckernagel is guaranteed to have a phenomenal season and would have for sure been one of Watford’s key players. However, the glimpses of excellence he has shown since departing suggest his adaptation to the English style of play is nearing completion.
Versatility and Creativity Will Be Missed
The feature of Zinckernagel’s playing style which Watford will miss the most is his phenomenal ability to create chances out of thin air regardless of where he is lined up on the pitch. Even though Zinckernagel found his success with Bodo/Glimt as a right-winger, he never got to play in his preferred position for the Hornets as, of course, Ismaila Sarr started every match as the Club’s star right-winger. Thus, Zinckernagel primarily played as one of the Hornets’ central midfielders, a role in which, even though he was not the most natural in when it came to defensive duties, he found considerable success.
Despite only making nine starts and 20 total appearances for Watford in the Championship, he was the Club’s joint-leading assister alongside Ken Sema with five. Zinckernagel averaged one goal contribution per 153 minutes, a resounding return for a player not in his most natural position.
His creative eye, whether deployed out wide in his preferred role or in the center of the park, is a feature that is arguably unsurpassed by anyone currently at Vicarage Road. Even if Zinckernagel were to only have occasional starting minutes and primarily feature as a “super substitute,” that extra bit of flair and intricacy could have proven to be decisive in the fine margins that outline a relegation battle.
Ideal Sarr Replacement for AFCON
With Sarr likely absent around the start of 2022 for a chunk of matches due to AFCON, the Hornets will be without their star player. This would have given Zinckernagel the perfect opportunity to play in his best position. Watford would, in turn, finally get to see their most creative player line up in his most prolific position. He would probably not fully fill the void left by Sarr, though he would provide a different type of option and more than sufficiently get the job done at making the damage of Sarr’s absence minimal.
Now, unless a new signing arrives, Watford will have to start a player out of position to fill Sarr’s place. Keeping Zinckernagel would have provided the Hornets a brilliant rotational player who could push for consistent starting minutes in multiple positions and provide a threatening creative eye. Instead, he will spend another season in the second tier, likely performing really well to give Watford a constant reminder they should have let his top-flight dreams come true as soon as possible. Maybe Watford will not end up missing him in the slightest, though as of now, it is hard to see a scenario where the Hornets do not rue his departure at least once. Hopefully, for the Vicarage Road faithful, he will once more don the Watford colors in the 2022/23 campaign.