“It feels like I’ve been here longer than I have. It’s a nice environment to be in. Everyone has made me and the other lads who came in welcome.” 👊
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 21, 2020
Aston Villa have had their fair share of prolific goalscorers in the Premier League era. Their list of leading marksmen in that time includes Dean Saunders, Dwight Yorke, Dion Dublin, Juan Pablo Angel, John Carew and Christian Benteke to name a few.
Now enter Ollie Watkins – a forward that played in the League Two play-off final for Exeter City just three-and-a-half years ago. There has been a recent trend of footballers, particularly in the striking department, working their way up through the divisions into the promised land.
Similar stories include former Villa loan flop Grant Holt, Rickie Lambert and Jamie Vardy. Like Watkins, some of the frontmen gracing the Premier League today went via Brentford.
It’s not unkind to describe the Bees as the fourth-best supported club in West London as, unlike neighbours Chelsea, Fulham and QPR, they haven’t graced the top flight just yet.
Villa have Brentford to thank for both their record signing in Watkins and current manager in Dean Smith. Now that the pair are working together again, the Premier League betting suggests the club are in no danger of repeating last season’s relegation battle and trading as big as 40.00 on the exchanges for the drop.
An excellent start to the new campaign, and Watkins hitting the ground running at Villa Park, has seen to that. He came into the busy festive fixture programme with eight goals across all competitions, and the only criticism being it could have been even more.
Penalty misses and contentious VAR decisions notwithstanding, Watkins has not been content with just the journey to the Premier League but trying to make the most of his destination in a claret and blue shirt. This season might just be the campaign where English strikers shine in general.
For every foreign signing in the goal charts, there is at least one homegrown player. Watkins trails the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Vardy, Harry Kane and Callum Wilson in that department with a quarter of the season gone but, unlike him, all of those names have played senior international football for England and scored.
They are established and Watkins isn’t just yet, but the signs in his early Villa career are very promising indeed. Goals were a problem last season – a point proven by just skipper Jack Grealish and Egypt international Trezeguet managing more than five in the Premier League campaign.
Watkins is well on his way to double figures if he stays fit and firing. He turns 25 before the year is out – not even in his prime – and, if he continues in this vein, you wouldn’t bet against him forcing his way into the national setup ahead of the Euros either.
The exploits of Wilson, Vardy and Lambert who had similar trajectories from the lower leagues to an England shirt gives hope that players in form do get chances on merit. Watkins was voted The Football League Young Player of the Year for 2017, following in the footsteps of Gareth Bale, Wilfried Zaha and Dele Alli.
He is in good company, then. Seeing Watkins step up from Exeter to Brentford and now Villa suggests this talent has no ceiling, so long as he keeps banging the goals in for Smith.