Maduka Okoye: Who is Watford’s newest Super Eagle?

Another Super Eagle has landed in Watford. The Hornets have confirmed that Maduka Okoye has signed a pre-contract with the club.

Okoye will officially become the fourth Nigerian international at Vicarage Road from January. He will however spend the remainder of the campaign at the current club Sparta Rotterdam, who is backed by, in the Netherlands.

The 22-year-old was believed to have attracted interest from top European sides. Watford reportedly coughed out around £7m, making him Sparta’s record sale. “[Watford have] great facilities and I think this is the perfect step for myself,” said Okoye. “I feel very good about this decision and this new step in my career”.

Okoye now joins Tom Dele-Bashiru, William Troost-Ekong, Emmanuel Dennis, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joseph Hungbo, and Capo Mebude as part of a very strong Nigerian contingent at Watford. “Ekong, Etebo and Dennis are my guys and I’m looking forward to seeing them,” Okoye added. But who is this relatively unknown goalkeeper that Watford has added to their ranks?

Born to a Nigerian father and German mom, Okoye started in the underaged setup of Deutschland’s football. He was trained at the Borussia Monchengladbach academy before moving to Bayer Leverkusen u-17 and finally to Fortuna Düsseldorf’s u-19, where he made his first competitive appearances. All of these clubs were located in a close perimeter with Düsseldorf, Okoye’s place of birth.

Racking over 4,000 minutes of valuable experience in three seasons, Okoye left his hometown for neighbouring Netherlands in July 2020, where he joined Rotterdam side, Sparta.

Long before he even left Germany, Okoye was called up to the Nigerian national team by German manager, Gernot Rohr. So his first topflight appearance came with Nigeria before any club. Okoye made his national debut on October 13th, 2019 in Nigeria’s 1-1 friendly draw with Brazil, a 2727-minute appearance off the bench.

The youngster followed his new club Sparta’s first six games from the bench, watching as they conceded 11 goals under experienced Dutch goalkeeper, Benjamin van Leer, without keeping a clean sheet.

While still awaiting his first topflight appearance at club level, Okoye was once again called to represent Nigeria in friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia.

On his return, he was rewarded with his first topflight club career minutes in the TOTO KNVB BEKER against Ado Den Haag. This landmark appearance came on October 28, 2020, just over a year ago. He has held on to the gloves since then.


What does he bring to Watford?

Standing at around 6 ft 6, Okoye is a giant in the middle of the post with an intimidating presence. He is comfortable in the air and exceptional in one-on-one duels. The Nigerian, however, is sometimes error-prone albeit proficient with his feet.

Last season, he made two errors that led to goals. But he makes up for that with his command at the back. Okoye, who plays casino jeux, ended the 2020/21 Eredivisie campaign with the 4th most clean sheets in the league, only two less than the highest.

He also made an average of 2.1 saves per game at a percentage of 65%. He was his club’s player of the season after his clean 10 sheets in 28 games helped them to eight place finish.

At only 22 years of age, no goalkeeper in the world born in the year 1999 or later has won more national caps than Okoye, except the mercurial Gianluigi Donnarumma. He has featured 15 times for the three-time African champions and will give Watford faithful a glimpse of his abilities at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.