Watford Manager, Claudio Ranieri has maintained that they are happy to stop striker Emmanuel Dennis from honouring Nigeria’s call-up for the 2022 AFCON amid claims the club had threatened the 24-year-old from taking part in the competition.
Dennis was initially included in the team by interim boss Austin Eguavoen following an impressive debut season at Watford, only to be replaced in the 28-man squad by Olympiacos’ Henry Onyekuru.
In what has been believed to be Watford’s blunt refusal to release the player, disgruntled fans across the country stormed the club’s social media page to vent their frustration and anger.
Reacting to the claims after the team suffered their 13th defeat of the season against Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on Saturday, Ranieri maintained that the dispute with Nigeria over the player is finished.
“I think Nigeria have to speak to the [Watford] board and not the manager. I am the manager, the player stays here, I’m happy and for me, it is finished,” the 70-year-old Italian manager told reporters as quoted by Daily Mail.
“Maybe disappointed, all the players want to go to play for their national team, but also want to stay here – a little bit disappointed, a little bit happy to stay here.”
On supporting his claims that Dennis was threatened by Watford, Eguavoen said in a previous interview: “Dennis told me that his club had done everything humanly possible for him not be at AFCON.
“I can’t force it, I reported the matter to the authority and they also tried, that was why we had to wait until the last second before we pushed the button.
“Dennis said he wanted to come but the club is threatening him. What do we do if a player does not want to come? We have to play with what we have. Based on that, I like the enthusiasm because I only informed Onyekuru once and he was happy about it.”
Despite managing to keep Dennis at the club, Watford will still lose Nigerian defender William Troost-Ekong, Morocco pair Adam Masina and Imran Louza, as well as Senegal winger Ismaila Sarr during AFCON, and according to Ranieri they are still talking to the board to do “something good for us.”
“Now I lose some players [to the African Cup of Nations], so we have to do something. We will see. We are speaking every day with the board and I’m sure they will try to do something good for us,” Ranieri said as quoted by the club’s official website.
On why he substituted Dennis at half-time break of the 1-0 defeat against Spurs, Ranieri said: “He had a little injury problem before, and he felt something as well, so we took a precaution.
“Before the match, he wasn’t 100 per cent and I saw he was a little nervous during the match, so I changed and put on Joao Pedro who played a very good match.”