Emmanuel Dennis: Between the worlds of responsibility and reliability


In January, the Nigerians took to Watford’s Twitter page to rain down insults and insults as the Hornets refused to allow Emmanuel Dennis to team up with the Super Eagles.

The Nigerians had relished the prospect of having their best players at the AFCON in Cameroon. The piquant prospect of seeing Dennis, Osimhen, Ighalo and others was enticing. It was understandable what their frustrations were when Dennis was not released.

Her Premier League form was instructive enough for the Super Eagles and her absence was dubbed a big miss despite not particularly impressing on her previous forays.

The absence of Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo made Watford’s actions more unforgivable for the Nigerians.

Three months after Nigeria suffered an early exit to Cameroon, Dennis had the opportunity to represent the Super Eagles again and show what the team have been missing. He flattered to deceive.

Nigeria faced Ghana in the World Cup qualifiers and the striker played in both games, starting the first leg in Kumasi as a substitute.

The second leg in Abuja saw Austin Eguavoen hand Dennis a starting spot but within minutes the Nigerians realized little had been missed after all.

The former Club Brugge star could partly be blamed for not shutting down Thomas Partey before he fired the mishandled kick from Francis Uzoho. This goal finally deprived the Super Eagles of a ticket to the World Cup.

It would be unfair to blame Nigeria’s absence from the World Cup on just one player, but Dennis showed that day that he is not a player to be relied on in such settings.

His reaction to the match was one of relaxation, far from the weight of expectations of more than 60,000 people in the stands and millions watching from home.

He had been hailed from the highest heavens as a man on fire, thanks to his impressive Premier League first-half goal return.

As he struggled in the second half of last season, he managed to show glimpses of what his day could be. His day, however, is usually not the team’s.

Between facts, statistics and… nutmeg

Dennis contributed to almost 50% of Watford’s goals last season, scoring 10 times and assisting 6 in 33 games. It’s Dennis’ best career comeback to date. While that means a player with a big return and a stat good enough to make tongues quiver, the transfer window showed that wasn’t the case.

In April, just a month before the end of the season, he had recorded the most nutmegs with 17, a statistic also shared by Watford who had the most nutmegs of any top 5 club. European leagues.

The Hornets suffered relegation.

A few clubs have shown interest in Dennis but there is no concrete offer on the table for the Nigerian and his laid back approach to games cannot be discounted as being partly responsible for that.

In the Premier League where he had a decent first season, he showed some of his biggest weaknesses but also recorded some of his best strengths. The 24-year-old has had flashes of genius, like his Champions League double against Real Madrid and incredible moments at Watford, but his best years are yet to come. Improvement is of utmost importance.

He showed the greatest danger playing from the left flank and cutting into his right and also playing as a centre-forward. His below-average passing ability and difficulty playing with his back to goal, however, means he isn’t as effective in many situations.

His Whoscored rating of 6.12 as a right tackle is the lowest of any position he held last season. He was rated 7.01 as a left forward, above his average of 6.89 and proof of his power in that area. In the middle, it is rated 7.0.

The problem, despite this strong evidence of his ability, is how important his qualities are to potential suitors. For the player, he must join a club where the playing time is guaranteed, which is not acquired in the Premier League where the level of competition is suffocating.

Although there have been ongoing links with West Ham and Leeds over the past few weeks, it looks rather interesting how the two sides will settle down with a Dennis in their fold.

David Moyes has built an attack around Michail Antonio, Jarod Bowen and Said Benrahma and can be extremely reluctant to change a functioning system. All three players had pretty decent seasons last term.

At Leeds, Jesse March’s ultimate survival of relegation also means he will be looking for players who can help support the team and make it stronger.

The signing of Luis Sinisterra from Feyenoord is an indicator of where the American is aiming to improve his squad.

Everton and Newcastle have also been mentioned as potential destinations, but Watford must be ready to lower their valuation which has been pegged at £20million.

Dennis offers viable solutions for teams that need what he has, but the reality of his abilities is on the border between two worlds.

On his best days, he could be in the mix, providing answers to deep questions and showing that he could be dependable. But in most cases the bitter truth that he’s not all the numbers suggest hits him in the face, as Super Eagles fans discovered in friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador , and during the CAN qualifiers.

“He (Dennis) and Sarr are very individualistic players and we’ve worked hard with them and the rest of the team to get them to bring their straw to the water as far as team play goes and I don’t I haven’t seen any massive mistakes from them on that side (against Brentford). Dennis will be happy with his performance because he was quite dangerous and he scored a goal,” Roy Hodgson told TheAthletic after Watford beat Brentford last year.

The “threat” is good, but his ability is by no means messianic and the window suggests so. We will soon see what the days to come have in store and we hope he stays on the path to his strength.


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