Promotion, relegation, stagnation. Playing in empty stadia during a pandemic. Six different managers, 68 appearances, two goals and one very memorable afternoon against Luton at Vicarage Road.

The publicly-known facts of William Trost-Ekong’s time at Watford show just what a turbulent, topsy-turvy and testing three seasons he had.

But that’s before we even consider the stuff that, until now, wasn’t common knowledge:

• Warned he’d be sold if he insisted on playing at the African Cup of Nations

• Being “frozen out” and playing just 12 minutes in 18 games when he returned

• Asked to accept a transfer to Russia during the World Cup break

Troost-Ekong decided to share the story of his three seasons, and particularly what happened around the time of his departure, because “I need people to know what happened”.

His first season with the Hornets was the 2020/21 campaign which started under Vladimir Ivic and ended in promotion back to the Premier League under his successor, Xisco Munoz.

“My first season started with Ivic and then ended with Xisco. It was a good season but also a weird one,” said Troost-Ekong.

“It was during the pandemic so the grounds were empty, except for some games halfway through when they let a small number of fans in.

“We got promoted and it was my best season at Watford.

“It was a shame because we couldn’t really celebrate it with the fans which takes away from the moment.”

He played 33 times that season, but then only made 18 outings in the following campaign.

“The second season I had at the club wasn’t great,” he said, with the tone of his voice clearly suggesting some irony.

“It was my worst season in my career which was a real shame because it was what I had worked for the hardest. It was always my dream to play in the Premier League.

Watford Observer: Troost-Ekong closes down Aston Villa's Emiliano BuendiaTroost-Ekong closes down Aston Villa's Emiliano Buendia (Image: Action Images)

“We started off great on the first day against Aston Villa, we did pick up points and there were some good moments.

“But thing started going wrong around November and I had a horrible game against Leicester when I let the ball bounce and it led to a goal.

“Then away at Brentford I got crucified – I thought I played well throughout the game and then in the last minute I gave the ball away trying to pass it out to the side.

“Because I gave the ball away I was so intent on trying to win it back that I made a slide tackle in the box that was rash and silly. They scored the penalty and we ended up losing 2-1.”

However, Troost-Ekong started at Vicarage Road when Watford lost 1-0 at home to Spurs, before he went to join up with his Nigerian teammates ahead of the delayed 2021 AFCON finals.

That’s when, in his own words, “things started to go wrong” for the defender.

“In the January I flew out to represent Nigeria at AFCON, and when I was at the airport waiting to take off I got a phonecall from Cristiano Giaretta, who told me if I did leave to go to AFCON then Watford were going to sell me,” he recalled.

“He said they already had a club lined up to buy me. I was pretty shocked by that.

“They had said everything was fine with me going to AFCON, but there had been all the big drama because Emmanuel Dennis decided not to go but I did.

“I was captain of Nigeria at the time and I wanted to go and represent my country.

“It was a night flight to Nigeria so it must have been around 10pm when Cristiano called me, and said they had an offer from Trabzonspor in Turkey.

“They had listed me on a website called TransferRoom, which is what all the clubs use.

“He said he wanted me to make a decision on going to Trabzonspor, and I said I was very happy at Watford, thanks.

“I knew things weren’t going great but I believed I could fight my way back into the team.

“I came back from AFCON and I spent the rest of the season out of the squad. I came on for the last ten minutes of the game at Crystal Palace where we lost 1-0 and got relegated.

“Basically I think I was frozen out because I went to AFCON.”

Watford Observer: The defender gives his shirt to a young fanThe defender gives his shirt to a young fan (Image: Action Images)

Having seen Xisco, Claudio Ranieri and Roy Hodgson come and go during that season, Troost-Ekong returned ahead of the start of the 2022/23 campaign to be greeted by the new head coach, Rob Edwards.

“I came back for the new season and had already made up my mind that I wanted to leave because of the experiences I’d had the season before.

“Rob Edwards came in and I had a good first meeting with him, but I said I wanted to leave and at that time I had several options.

“The club said you’re absolutely not leaving, but I didn’t play much at all. On the last day of August I got a phone call from the club saying that if I got something good then I could go.

“That wasn’t much use as it was the last day of the transfer window. It just infuriated me even more. All the clubs that had been interested had signed other players by then.

“Then Rob put me in for my first start at home to Sunderland, and we drew 2-2 and I thought I played really well.

“I remember Rob and his assistant Richie Kyle saying if they knew I could play like that then they would have played me sooner.

“I think they then got sacked the next week.”

Watford Observer: Troost-Ekong challenges former Coventry striker Viktor GyokeresTroost-Ekong challenges former Coventry striker Viktor Gyokeres (Image: PA)

That led to Troost-Ekong playing under his sixth and final head coach at Watford, and one he felt he really connected with – Slaven Bilic.

“Big Slav came in and I think I played most games and I was captain for a lot of them.

“I was enjoying playing for him, but I need to tell the truth about how I came to leave because most people don’t know about some of the things that were going on behind the scenes.

“Watford was, and is, my club, and I need people to know what happened.

“In that season we had the World Cup break in November. I was really settled by then, in the team and happy to be playing after a turbulent six months after AFCON and being relegated.

“But then I got a phone call from an agent - who is quite renowned to Watford fans - saying that Watford had accepted an offer for me from Spartak Moscow.

“I said that with everything happening around Russia at that time, I was quite surprised and going there wasn’t something I had in mind.

“It quickly escalated to being told that if I could agree personal terms then I could go.

“I hadn’t asked for a move at that time, but maybe because I was in the team and playing ok I was one of the players they could sell.

“I had a conversation with Spartak Moscow and the terms proposed were very attractive.

“I wasn’t sure about it for my family but they did their best to convince me and had Victor Moses, my Nigeria teammate, call me up to speak about it too.

“We had spoken about when I would meet up with the team in Dubai and the medical in January.

“Then all of a sudden it was off the table for a reason I’m unsure of but by this point I had now decided if I was up for sale again that I wanted to leave for sure.

“But I thought to myself that clearly the club was putting me in the shop window again, and what was I supposed to make of that.

“So I said that now I wanted to leave, and that was when Salernitana in Italy came forward.

“They paid Watford a loan fee and had a clause that they would have to buy me in the summer if I played an agreed number of games. It was a move I was happy with so I agreed.”

• In the concluding part of this interview, Troost-Ekong reveals that Bilic found out he was leaving from a report on TV, why he was made to train with the Under-21s and that he will move back to Hertfordshire to live – and possibly work – before the end of his career.