Maduka Okoye is set to become the youngest number one Watford has had during the Pozzo era. You have to go back to the years immediately before the Italian takeover when Scott Loach was aiming to see another 22-year-old as his first choice. Loach cost £50,000 from Lincoln City, Okoye closer to £5million from Sparta Rotterdam. These are different times, with a different approach – albeit in the same division.
Gino Pozzo’s preference was experience: first Manuel Almunia, then Heurelho Gomes and, more recently, Ben Foster – all in their thirties – between the sticks.
Having invested heavily in the towering 6ft 5in Nigerian international, who helped Rotterdam successfully fight to stay in the Eredivisie last season, he is expected to start the opening game of the season on July 30. If that happens, there will naturally be a ripple effect in the goalkeeping department.
This will have an impact in particular on the thought process of Daniel Bachmann. When Okoye’s transfer was announced in January – before he spent the second half of the season in the Netherlands – it was a clear signal for the Austrian that he was unlikely to have the chance to succeed Foster, whose contract was coming to an end. end. Behind the scenes, recruiting a new number one had been high on the recruiting department’s priority list since last summer.
In the short term, Bachmann will start pre-season with Watford but he and his representatives are watching developments closely, with an exit a distinct possibility. Athleticism has had confirmation from sources at Manchester United that Bachmann is one of several names they are currently considering for a supporting role behind David de Gea. Dean Henderson – who Watford himself considered an option – is set to leave Old Trafford, leaving Tom Heaton (whose contract expires in 2023) as the only other goalkeeper following Lee Grant’s retirement.
If it becomes fully clear that Bachmann will be number two again at Watford, the option of a supporting role in the Premier League and Europe would be an attractive proposition. Taking a pay cut – most team members will see their salaries cut by up to 50% – after relegation to the Championship, also comes into play.
Bachmann, who has a contract until 2024, is likely to cost between £2m and £4m. Although the Manchester United link first surfaced while Ralf Rangnick was still in charge, the caretaker manager’s departure from any involvement at Old Trafford hasn’t stopped Bachmann’s name from being in the mix. . Rangnick, now Austria coach, will always be interested in the goalkeeper.
Having fought his way to the top spot at Euro 2020, he hasn’t made the most recent squad, with Heinz Lindner (Basel), Martin Fraisl (Schalke) and Patrick Pentz ( Austria Vienna) selected in front of him.
After playing the majority of games in the second half of the last promotion season, Bachmann started Watford’s first four games of 2021-22 but failed to establish himself as a number one throughout the season. country.
Apart from the potential Manchester United option, Athleticism was informed that currently no other clubs have made formal or informal approaches, but it was also recognized on all sides of the equation that a lot may change in the coming months.
Maduka Okoye in action for Sparta Rotterdam. He’s only 22 and has signed for a Premier League club – even the best goalkeepers make mistakes. He needs encouragement! 🇳🇬#TeamNigeria pic.twitter.com/AecyymuSoH
— E (@iamOkon) January 24, 2022
Bachmann will clearly be aiming to impress new head coach Rob Edwards, assistant Richie Kyle and goalkeeping coach Alex Brunner, who recently arrived from sister club Udinese. The main task for the 48-year-old, who has spent the majority of his playing days in Italy’s lower leagues, is to ensure Okoye’s development continues to accelerate. But he will also share with the new leadership duo his thoughts on who will support the new keeper. At one point it looked like academy goalkeeping coach Graham Stack might be promoted to the role, but he left and agreed terms with another Championship team.
Watford’s hierarchy will be aware that ahead of a 46-game season they need to ensure they have a group of goalkeepers who can step in if necessary – although the hope is that one plays the vast majority of league games and the number two potentially places itself in the cups. Okoye visited the club’s training ground before the end of the season to do some initial assessments and receive treatment for a minor injury.
Another key part of what happens is the demands that will be placed on goalkeepers in terms of style of play. Edwards’ side will aim to play from the back but are unlikely to be naive if it is not possible. Players will have to make the right decision at the right time.
At Forest Green, Luke McGee was still present in League Two, but there seems to have been a pragmatic approach to his starting move requirements. Lewis Thomas was his replacement and was perhaps more suited to play at fullback, but McGee started.
Often McGee would go wide from a goal kick with striker Jamille Matt pushing on the last defender, or Jordan Moore-Taylor (who played as a central central defender) would come and collect the short ball (often at the inside the box if at a kick goal) and would make the first pass. The latter approach has been favored most of the time, with the aim often being to free up full-backs to position themselves higher up the pitch to help attack.
If there is to be wiggle room and the number one position is to be contested rather than outright Okoye’s, then pre-season will be an opportunity for Bachmann. When it comes to what he and Okoye did with their feet last season, both hit longer passes more often than not (Bachmann 69.8%, Okoye 82.6% of the time) with higher rates of completion not too different (Bachmann 35.9% against 38.9 for Okoye). percent) according to data provided by Opta.
When short they were both healthy (Bachmann 97% vs. Okoye’s 99%), although the high percentages suggest passing was on the safe side. On goal kicks, Okoye reduced the completion rate by three percent (58.5 to 55.2).
Both were playing in struggling teams last season so they were under pressure most of the time. Watford’s new signing’s xG differential was significantly better than Bachmann’s, conceding 40 goals from an xG shot from a target value of 42.9 (thus preventing just under three goals) while Bachmann conceded 26 goals from an xG of 24.2, meaning he let in, statistically, more than he should have.
In terms of aerial dominance, there wasn’t much to choose between them. Okoye ranked 10th in Eredivisie in catches by 90 at 0.62, compared to 0.58 for Bachmann (ranked 16th in the Premier League). While the shots per 90 were also similar (Bachmann 0.25, ranked 19th in the Premier League – ahead of Foster at 0.23 in 21st; Okoye, with 0.31, ranked 15th in the Eredivisie).
If Bachmann were to leave, it’s likely that Rob Elliot would simply be promoted to number two. He was on the bench nine times last season, playing once in the 3-1 EFL Cup loss to Stoke. At least in the short term, it looks like the Watford hierarchy would be happy to have Elliot in the role for the final year of his contract. The 36-year-old is considered a popular member of the playing staff and was on board for promotion last in 2020-21. With Elliot, you get positivity without the GoPro.
What happens below this rank remains to be decided. Pontus Dahlberg, who signed a contract extension until 2025 before going on loan to Doncaster and Gillingham last season, is set to make a temporary move again. It would mean 18-year-old Vincent Angelini, who was on the bench as number two against Brentford, West Ham and Tottenham last season, would fulfill the dual role of under-23 and number three.
(Top photos: Getty Images)