Obbi Oulare could have been forgiven for thinking his Watford career was heading down a similar path to his father’s at Stoke City.
Souleymane Oulare was signed by the Potteries in 2001 and it took him until December to make his debut. He didn’t play again for another six months (mainly due to a life-threatening ilness) and when he did, he scored a famous play-off semi final extra-time winner against Cardiff City. He was, rather harshly, never seen again in a red and white striped shirt for the remainder of his two-year contract.
Oulare Jnr has endured an equally slow start to life in England, taking three months to even make the bench. When he did he was stripped and receiving his final instructions from Alberto Giraldez to come on against Manchester United, of all teams, when Troy Deeney converted a nerveless penalty. Cue a drastic change of plan as Quique Sanchez Flores sought to padlock a point. Oulare put his padded coat on and sat back down.
Oulare has been named four times on the bench since and you started to question whether he was deliberately being held back so he did not become ineligible to go out on loan. Fifa rules, concerning the status and transfer of players, says a player cannot play for more than two clubs in a season. Oulare played for Club Brugge this season and there is some doubt as to whether Under-21 games count as official matches. His appearance yesterday, in a competitive match, therefore completely rules out the possibility of him going to a foreign team on loan this season.
Had he not played yesterday, and there was some doubt he would on Thursday and Friday morning, when Sanchez Flores was fielding a weakened team in the cup against a struggling side, then Oulare would have rightly questioned if he was going to play again this season. He would had seen his friend and Under-21 teammate Charles Musonda linked this week with a loan move away from Chelsea in a bid to get him some game time and enhance his development.
“I knew it was going to be difficult and that I would have to be patient,” Oulare said. “That is the reality I’ve found. I know that I am young and I have plenty of time,” said Oulare. “I have to enjoy life. Nobody thought at the age of 20 I would be playing for a club in the Premier League. So it is a dream that has come true for me and I can only enjoy everything that comes my way.”
His Watford bow provided the cherry on top of his 20th birthday cake, an occasion that was celebrated after the game with a surprise meal with Adlène Guedioura, Nathan Ake, Allan Nyom and his countryman and former Watford academy player Tom Rosenthal.
“I was only thinking about giving everything I had,” said Oulare. “Today that was for only a half. It was nice for sure, especially as it was one day after my birthday.”
Since scoring in a 7-1 win for Club Brugge over a Standard Liege side featuring the Hornets’ favourite pantomime villain in Anthony Knockaert, Oulare has been limited to Under-21 appearances against Huddersfield Town, Charlton Athletic and Queens Park Rangers. He also played 75 minutes of the friendly with Fulham in November.
“It was very hard because I haven’t played for months and the level in England is very different to the level in Belgium,” he said. “The two strikers here are playing very well. Troy showed his class [against Newcastle] and so did Odion when he came on. I have learnt a lot from him and in training every day with Ighalo and Deeney. They both give me advice. They spoke to me during and after the game and it is the same in training. So it is great for me that I get to learn and train with these two strikers. The manager says I am a better player than when I arrived at the club.”
Had things worked out differently Guedioura and Oulare could have been playing for QPR at Nottingham Forest in the cup yesterday. Guedioura turned down a move to Loftus Road, despite Crystal Palace accepting a bid of £3.5m, while Les Ferdinand, we are told, thought QPR were in the box seat to sign Oulare when they watched him play in the Champions League qualifier at Old Trafford.
“He is a great lad,” said Guedioura who has taken Oulare under his wing at Watford. “He tries to improve, tries to adapt and tries to adapt in the Premier League. I was happy he started.”