Watford’s Transfer Ban: Why FIFA Banned New Signings & How It Was Lifted

FIFA flag

Watford F.C have endured a turbulent few years. From relegation from the Premier League in 2021/22 to finishing a disappointing 11th in the EFL Championship the season after that, it’s been tough for Hornets fans. That’s not even to mention the constant managerial merry-go-round that seems to have plagued the club in recent times!

To make matters worse, on July 20th, 2023, the Hertfordshire club were placed under international transfer embargo by FIFA, which we will be explaining in this article. We will then be taking a look at how the Hornets might fare this year under new boss Valerian Ismael, now that – spoiler alert – the ban has thankfully been lifted.

Why Were Watford Placed Under a Transfer Ban?

Samuel Kalu
Samuel Kalu (Supporterhéninois | commons.wikimedia.org)

The club were placed under a transfer embargo due to the existence of an outstanding payment involved in the club’s signing of Nigerian winger, Samuel Kalu. The Hornets signed the winger from French side, Bordeaux, back in January 2022 for a reported £3m fee, with the Nigerian international signing a three and a half year deal until 2025. Following this transfer, an academy in Nigeria where Kalu had spent time as a youth player, the Megamu Football Academy, claimed that they were owed a solidarity payment as part of the deal. As this payment had not been made, Megamu decided to take the matter up with FIFA, football’s worldwide governing body.

FIFA therefore decided to place the Championship side under a transfer embargo, until the matter was solved. Due to FIFA’s embargo, the FA were then obliged to restrict the Hornets from registering any new players, a fairly catastrophic occurrence in the middle of the transfer window! It is also worth mentioning that although a clearly skilful winger, Kalu, has so far failed to make much of an impact at Watford, considering that he only made nine appearances in the league last year, and has never scored for the club.

Why Was the Ban Lifted?

Nigeria flag
Nigeria flag

Although being placed under international transfer embargo by FIFA sounds pretty dramatic, it is worth remembering that the solidarity payment owed to the Nigerian academy was fairly small, especially by the standards of upper-level English football! The amount owed was therefore quickly paid by the Hertfordshire side, and the ban was lifted after just five days of being in action.

As Watford were desperate to ensure that their transfer business would not be drastically impacted, they acted quickly, prompting FIFA to declare that the situation had been solved satisfactorily, and the Hornets could play on. This has allowed the club to get back on track in the transfer market, as they look to provide new boss, Ismael, with a team that could seriously challenge for promotion.

Who Have Watford Signed this Summer?

Tom Ince
Tom Ince (dom fellowes | Wikipedia.org)

It’s been a fairly busy window for the Hertfordshire side this summer, and that’s without mentioning the transfer ban! The club have so far brought in five new players and lost nine on permanent deals elsewhere. Below, we have compiled a pair of tables to highlight the ins and outs that have taken place at Watford this summer.


Player Nationality Signed From Transfer Fee/Loan
Tom Ince England Reading £50k
Rhys Healey England Toulouse Free Transfer
Jake Livermore England West Brom Free Transfer
Jamal Lewis Northern Ireland Newcastle Season-Long Loan
Giorgi Chakvetadze Georgia Gent Season-Long Loan

As you can see, whilst the club haven’t particularly splashed the cash this summer, having only paid a solitary £50k for Reading forward, Tom Ince, in the way of transfer fees, they have been active. For example, the signing of former England international, Jake Livermore, looks shrewd, whilst left-back, Jamal Lewis, has already made 59 Premier League appearances at the age of 25. Furthermore, as we will get on to in a second, Watford have managed to recoup a significant amount of cash from selling some of their top players, meaning that there is room in the budget for the club to splash some more cash.


Player Nationality Signed By Transfer Fee
Joao Pedro Brazil Brighton £30m
Ismaila Sarr Senegal Marseille £15m
William Troost-Ekong Nigeria PAOK £866k
Joseph Hungbo Nigeria FC Nuremberg £242k
Britt Assombalonga DRC Antalyaspor Free Transfer
Mario Gaspar Spain Elche Free Transfer
Leandro Bacuna Curacao FC Gronigen Free Transfer
Domingos Quina Portugal Udinese Undisclosed
Christian Kabasele Belgium Udinese Undisclosed

Given that the club have managed to bring in over £45 million from selling some of their top players, including the hugely impressive Joao Pedro, they will surely now be able to add some high-level talent to Ismael’s squad. However, losing Pedro, along with fellow forward, Ismaila Sarr, could be seriously damaging for the Hornets’ forward line, unless they can sign satisfactory replacements.

The loss of long-time servants William Troost-Ekong and Christian Kabasele, who have made nearly 250 apps in all competitions for the club between them, also suggests that the club are going through a period of transition. So, how might their new-look team fare this season?

How Might the Hornets Do this Season?

Well, according to the bookies, Watford are seventh favourites to win the EFL Championship, with their odds sitting at 18/1 following the first game of the season. The Hertfordshire side began the 2023/24 season in style, beating QPR 4-0, having 13 shots on target and 71% possession. So far, so good (although the club were then immediately knocked out of the League Cup by Stevenage).

Furthermore, it is no secret that success in the Championship usually involves having a clinical striker in the squad – few will forget Aleksander Mitrovic’s incredible 43 goals in 44 games for Fulham in 2021/22, for example. For Watford, their goalscoring hopes largely rest on the shoulders of Ivorian forward, Vakoun Bayo, who has scored two goals in the first two games of the season, and is currently 16/1 to win the Championship golden boot. Overall, Watford will be a very tough team to predict this season, but the quick resolution of their transfer ban headache should hopefully help!