Relegation is not imminent, but the odds still say Watford are destined for their second Championship campaign in three seasons. Their placement in the English football hierarchy will determine the course of their summer transfer window: will there be star players arriving if safety is achieved or standouts departing if relegated? With the probability stating the latter situation is most likely, one name who will be on the top of other teams’ lists to swoop in for cheap will be one of the Premier League’s signings of the season, Emmanuel Dennis.
Blistering Start to Premier League Life Sets Watford Up for Substantial Profit
After signing from Belgian-giants Club Brugge for a fee in the region of £4 million, it took Dennis no time to hit the ground running. He scored the Hornets’ first goal back in the top flight, proving he was a force to be reckoned with in his debut.
The versatile forward thrives in both wide and central positions, able to create and score at impressive rates from both. Tallying up nine goals and five assists this season, the 24-year-old – who had once been prolific in Belgium before off-pitch drama derailed his 2020/21 campaign – has proven the move for his signature was more than shrewd. However, that prolific output offered at the start of the season has dried up.
13 of his goal contributions came in his first 16 league matches. Since the turn of the calendar year, he has only scored once in eleven outings. He still tremendously affects the run of play in many matches via his ball-carrying prowess and defensive duties, but the drought in creation and scoring is hard to ignore nonetheless. Between the form of Cucho Hernandez, Joao Pedro, and Ismaila Sarr, it would not be a shock to see Dennis relegated to the bench to be a super-sub, on occasion, rather than an unremovable starter, in the last nine matches.
Scoring 1.77 more goals than expected this season, it is safe to say Dennis is able to make the most of the chances he gets: his notable finishes against Chelsea, West Ham, and Aston Villa – when he seemingly flew over Ashley Young to win a header – shows how he can create danger out of half-chances. Even with his form drying up, there is every reason for other clubs to believe the somewhat dormant force will erupt with new surroundings.
His creativity has been an overlooked quality by many, with his goal-scoring form (or lack thereof) capturing the attention of most. Amongst Premier League forwards this season, Dennis ranks in the top fifteen percent (FBREF) for successful dribbles, fouls drawn, and shots that led to a subsequent shot attempt per 90 minutes. He ranks in the top five percent for forwards with nutmegs per 90 minutes (everyone’s favorite statistic – averaging 0.70 per match), players dribbled past per 90 minutes (2.69), as well as dribbles completed per 90 minutes (2.40).
Managers demanding high-intensity defending from their attacking ranks will most certainly be keeping a close eye on Dennis’ departure situation. Placing in the top seven percent (of the same category) for pressures in the defensive third, dribbles contested, and tackles in the defensive third, it is impossible to ignore the defensive work he offers.
What Is the Right Price?
Determining Dennis’ true transfer value this summer has numerous factors to consider. Through a post-COVID transfer window, the player’s form at the end of the season in comparison to the beginning, the Hornets’ league status, player desires, suitors, and more, it is hard to name the perfect price for most potential Watford departures. Regardless, the Hornets will be able to sell Dennis for a fee many times more than they bought him for.
While at Club Brugge, Arsenal attempted swoops in consecutive summers for Dennis. In 2019, Arsenal reportedly saw a £12-million offer rejected. The following summer, a £15-million offer was turned down. The summer after is when Watford signed him for just a fraction of those sums.
Thus, the base the Hornets should seek for his signature is in the £15-million range. Even if Watford lose leverage via relegation, the fact offers were coming in for him in the turbulent summer of 2020 for £15 million means at the bare minimum, the Hornets should not even consider any less. Even with his abysmal 2020/21 season, Dennis proving he has what it takes to thrive in the best domestic league in the world means he more than made up for the transfer value he lost. The hierarchy took a gamble when signing him, but the payoff for the risk has proven more than worth it, whether it be in the form of safety or much-needed finances post-relegation.
Both Odion Ighalo and Richarlison’s English-top-flight careers had a similar path at Vicarage Road: a swiftly successful start to life in the Premier League was followed by a barren run. Ighalo was sold for around £20 million and Richarlison for around £35 million. This is not to say Dennis is a direct comparison to those two (Ighalo was two years older than Dennis presently is and sold to a massively subsidized Changchun Yatai, whereas Richarlison was just 21-years-old sent to an overly-ambitious Marco-Silva-led Everton), but this frames the fees Watford have previously received for players on similar trajectories.
A similar player to Dennis, in terms of age, position, defensive work, and ball-carrying ability, Dan James can also be used as a barometer for the fee the Hornets should seek. Again, this is not a direct comparison, and most would agree Dennis is the superior player, but keeping in mind the Hornets will lose leverage if (or when) relegated, their respective transfer fees should land in a similar range. After two years with Manchester United, with James having hot spells in both seasons but not without other long fruitless periods, the promising forward went to Leeds United in a roughly £25-million transfer. If that is what James went for last summer, Dennis should certainly call for a similar, if not greater, fee this summer.
When considering summer sales, whether it be for Sarr, Dennis, or other stars, expectations on fees must be toned down because of the implications relegation has. Nonetheless, a sale of Dennis should see the Hornets recouping around £25 million for his services – funds which would be pivotal in keeping the club in a solid-enough position to not be totally wrecked by relegation. The phone should be hung up if less than £15 million is offered, as no fair agreement will be reached with such a difference in valuation. However, Dennis can significantly increase that figure if he rediscovers his firing form from the first half of the campaign.