Stefano Okaka is facing up to six weeks out with the hamstring injury he picked up against West Ham on Saturday.
The hulking striker came on for his debut on 78 minutes and crammed plenty into ten minutes of action. He saw a goal chalked off for offside, was booked for dissent then hobbled off with a hamstring injury after over-stretching in a tackle. He has been assessed by the medical team, minus the sacked head of medical Richard Collinge, and been ruled out for four to six weeks.
He will be sent to Barcelona to see Dr Cugat for specialist treatment and looks set to miss games against Manchester United, Burnley, Middlesborough, Swansea and Hull City, possibly returning in time for the game against Liverpool on Sunday November 6.
His absence represents a blow to Walter Mazzarri who wants Okaka and Isaac Success to push Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo hard for their places.
“Reinforcements are needed, and the good thing about it is it keeps me and Iggy on our toes,” said Deeney after Saturday’s game. “We were taken off today and none of us were happy with being brought off but we have to respect the manager’s wishes. Success came on, looked lively and nearly got a goal for himself. Unfortunately the big man Okaka got injured and we hope it’s not too serious because he looked a real handful.”
Watford were made aware of Okaka’s availability by Mogi Bayat, the agent who also represents Christian Kabasele and Sven Kums, the midfielder who has ended up at Udinese. However, Mazzarri already knew all about Okaka.
“I know him since he was very young, when he used to play for Roma,” said the head coach of the strapping 27-year-old striker capped four times by Italy. “His qualities mean he is best as a striker but he can play on the sides as a winger. But he performs better as a striker with players behind him. I am happy Okaka is here.”
Mazzarri did in the fourth game of this season what Quique Sanchez Flores did in the fifth league game of last season for the only time and substitute both Ighalo and Deeney.
“I did it because Ighalo and Deeney attacked and defended and were tired,” said Mazzarri. “In modern football, you need four strikers of almost the same level. For me it was very important for them to play. Okaka scored a goal but unfortunately it was disallowed.”
Okaka looked a handful in his cameo on Saturday, looking like the ideal brute of a forward to bring off the bench late on when defences are tiring. However, Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur thought the move was a strange one.
“The English teams splashed a lot of money this summer, a lot more than they should have on a few players,” he said in an article in The Times. “Stefano Okaka from Anderlecht was offered around and nobody wanted him, and then Watford bought him for €8 million (£6.75 million). I thought: “He is not good enough for Watford.
“He got a call-up for Italy when all the strikers were injured during Antonio Conte’s time in charge. He only scored 15 goals for Anderlecht last season and ended up in the B team because he fell out with the coach [René Weiler]. He is a strong guy, but €8 million for a B-squad striker?! I had to ask myself: “Do you have a vision or do you just buy players from agents?!”
“The money coming into Belgium makes Belgian clubs more unstable too because the league can’t keep its best players. I think just 30 per cent of the players who played last weekend were Belgian.”