The English Premier League is considered by some to be the best league in the world, with fierce competition from top to bottom and no result guaranteed. There’s a desire from the American fan base to have national team players regularly featuring for these clubs, becoming a part of their storied culture and history. At Wolverhampton Wanderers, Owen Otasowie is experiencing a breakout season, earning playing time and regularly appearing on the bench. Despite only becoming serious about the sport a few years ago, he’s reportedly on the watch list of several top clubs.
Otasowie was born in New York City before moving to London. He had a late start in organized soccer at 14 years old, playing with Mass Elite Academy. The youth program, located in Battersea, “offers a pathway for young, unsigned players to try and develop.” According to the club’s founder, “he was quite raw technically” but “a very determined player, hungry to improve and impress.”
In 2017, he went on trial with Birmingham and Ipswich, also training with West Ham. He elected to sign with Wolverhampton after impressing at one of Mass Elite’s regular showcase matches against professional academies. During his youth career, there was rumored interest from clubs such as Everton, Juventus, Ajax, and Schalke.
After accepting a schoolboy contract and scholarship, Otasowie started with the U-18 squad, making three appearances in his first half-season. His journey up the development pyramid was almost derailed by a serious knee injury that required two operations “after the first failed to correct the problem.” However, he persevered, working his way through the club’s U-23 team, eventually reaching the senior level.
Otasowie made his first-team debut against Beşiktaş in a December 2019 Europa League match. Wolverhampton already clinched a spot in the knockout rounds, providing an opportunity for the 18-year-old. He entered the match in the 73rd minute with his team up 4-0 and immediately made an impact on the attack. As observed by Express and Star, the reserve player “did not look out of place,” which is quite the compliment considering the well-regarded opponent and level of competition. The Birmingham Mail shared similar sentiments, awarding a rating of seven and describing him as “menacing” on set pieces.
Following the Europa League appearance, reported interest poured in from a variety of clubs. According to The Guardian, he was “wanted by Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Arsenal.” Despite the swirling rumors and impeding free agency, Otasowie opted to stay at Wolverhampton, signing a two-and-a-half year contract extension.
The first Premier League appearance came a full year later, entering a fixture against Chelsea at halftime. The midfielder assisted on Daniel Podence’s goal that leveled the match, sparking the side to a 2-1 victory. He received praise from all corners for his performance at the Molineux Stadium.
“The confidence he showed is fantastic, stepping out with the ball, showing powerful he is,” said Wolves captain Conor Coady. “He’s a great lad, you see him improving every day in training, which he does all the time now. He gets on with his business, gets on with trying to get better. It’s fantastic to see him out there…He kept his shape. It’s not an easy game to come onto.”
Since that match, Otasowie is firmly in the plans of manager Nuno Espirito Santo. He’s made three more appearances, including a start against Burnley FC. It’s not a bad run of form for someone who was considered a loan target for Championship clubs last summer. The Portuguese tactician is demanding a lot of the young player.
“He has a long way to go yet,” said Espirito Santo. “He’s very talented, very powerful. He gave a big hand…When we have young players, like we have, we must trust them.”
Otasowie is a gifted prospect, capable of meeting the fitness demands of the Premier League. He’s also excellent with the ball, playing accurate passes and fitting into Wolverhampton’s up-tempo counter-attacking style. Writer Justin Sousa describes his technical skills as “raw,” but notes “good distribution, press resistance, and an ability to carry the ball forward on the dribble.” Throughout his entire career, a comparison has been made to Paul Pogba, particularly with regards to physical attributes and confidence in the midfield.
“He’s versatile,” said Wolverhampton technical director Scott Sellars. “His physicality is his biggest strength. He’s really good at protecting the ball and one-v-ones, with and without the ball. A lot of his development has been done in cages in London and you can see that with him… It’s very hard to get the ball off him.”
One of Otasowie’s intrinsic strengths is his positional versatility. Stars and Stripes FC’s Max Croes endeavored to determine where he belongs in the formation, observing his deployment as a center back, defensive midfielder, a box-to-box midfielder, and lately as a false nine. The ability to line up and succeed at various spots is an invaluable skill for a national team player, almost necessitating call-ups for major tournaments with limited rosters.
At the international level, Otasowie made three appearances with the U-18 national team in 2018. Like many talents, the 20-year-old has several options and is eligible to represent England and Nigeria. He made his senior debut for the United States in November’s scoreless draw with Wales. It was a brief substitute appearance of a mere three minutes, but his future seems to be as a member of Gregg Berhalter’s young core.
Only a few years into his nascent professional career, Otasowie is on an upward trajectory. He’s still considered a project with a high ceiling, a naturally gifted player who has only begun to scratch the surface on his potential. The next step in his development is earning consistent playing time before becoming a regular in the starting lineup. Whether that happens at Wolverhampton or elsewhere, his next few years should be exciting to follow.