Watford recently signed 22-year-old goalkeeper Maduka Okoye from Sparta Rotterdam. He officially becomes a Hornet on January 1st, 2022, but he will spend the rest of the 2021/22 campaign with Sparta Rotterdam before returning to Vicarage Road in the summer to attempt to tie down the Hornets’ number one spot. The expected fee is in the region of £5 million. With lots of speculation surrounding Watford’s current goalkeepers, the arrival of Okoye provides some clarity. But what can be expected from the Hornets’ likely future starting goalkeeper?
Successor for Bachmann and Foster
Recently, the future of Daniel Bachmann at Vicarage Road has grown unclear. With Ben Foster claiming the number one role under Claudio Ranieri (and controversially so), Bachmann is known to be disgruntled about the situation and is likely to seek a January departure if he does not reclaim the starting spot by the opening of the next transfer window.
Foster is in the last year of his Watford contract, and he is known to want to go to the MLS upon the conclusion of his current deal.
Thus, the Hornets’ top two goalkeepers next year are likely to be Pontus Dahlberg (a 22-year-old currently impressing on loan with Doncaster, after impressive loans in Sweden) and Okoye. The two young goalkeepers will probably be competing with each other for the number one role regardless of what tier the Hornets find themselves in next year, with Okoye the new preference of the hierarchy and favorite to secure the starting job.
High-Quality Shot-Stopper and Improving Cross Claimer
After spending time with Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, and Fortuna Dusseldorf’s youth teams, Okoye signed for Sparta Rotterdam in the summer of 2020. He has been an instant success in the Eredivisie. In his first season in the Dutch top-flight, he started 29 matches, keeping 10 clean sheets and conceding 37 times. The Nigerian International Team’s number one found himself in the Eredivisie Team of the Year as a result of his noteworthy performances. In 13 matches this season, Okoye has conceded 19 times, keeping two clean sheets in the process.
Last season, Okoye had an impressive 67.4% save rate. This season, the number has gone up to 69.6%. For comparison, Foster’s save rate this season is 61.3% and Bachmann’s is 64.7%. What also must be considered is Sparta Rotterdam were promoted ahead of the 2019/20 season, thus leading to them being a team expected to be in the lower echelons of the Eredivisie (with Okoye being a large part of their recent successes).
The 1.98-meter (6-foot, 6-inch) goalkeeper has also been rapidly improving when it comes to cross collections/aerial defending. Last season, he averaged just 0.1 “Good High Claims Per Game.” In the Championship, Bachmann, who was known for being very conservative when coming off of his line, averaged 0.5 Good High Claims Per Game. This season, Foster averages 0.7.
However, Okoye has already tremendously improved in the area he needed to improve in most: this season, he averages 0.8 Good High Claims Per Game. PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper Joel Drommel averages 0.5 Good High Claims Per Game. Groningen goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh averages 0.2 Good High Claims Per Game. Vitesse goalkeeper Markus Schubert averages 0.7 Good High Claims Per Game. Thus, Okoye ranks higher than many, if not all, other goalkeepers in the Eredivisie this season when it comes to successfully coming off of his line. Regardless of if the Hornets are in the Premier League or Championship next season, more certainty when defending crosses is needed: Okoye will already be able to provide that and is continuing to improve in that field.
Super Eagles teammate and Watford center-back William Troost-Ekong echoed the notion that Okoye continues to improve, telling the Watford FC website, “He’s a very reliable goalkeeper with a huge will to learn, and I think he’ll add a lot of strengths to the squad when he links up with us next year.”
The jump from the Eredivisie to the Premier League is a big one. Even if Okoye winds up needing to make the step to the Championship for a season, the aerial factor of the English second tier is still just as prominent, if not a more pivotal part of the game, than in the top-flight. Still young with lots of room to grow (talent-wise, for he is definitely more than tall enough), if all goes to plan, Okoye will be the Hornets’ number one for many years to come – and possibly the only thing that could pry him away from between the sticks at Vicarage Road is a transfer to a European-competing team a few years down the line.