The rise of Ollie Watkins: From Exeter to England International
The Villa forward reporting for his first day as an England International (Photo by Eddie Keogh - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

In the summer of 2020, Ollie Watkins signed for Aston Villa in a record deal for the Villains, costing an estimated £33 million from Brentford. Last week he was called up to the England squad for the first time. The rise to the Premier League and now international duty has been nothing short of spectacular, with the striker making his debut appearance for Exeter City just six years ago in May 2014. 

The Early Years

In the beginning, Watkins failed a trial with the Grecians at nine years old before being accepted the following year. This was a wise choice as he went on to score 30 goals in the under 18s squad. Unsurprisingly, the Torquay born striker was offered a professional contract and was making his debut for the first team just a month later. He came off the bench in a 2-0 win against Hartlepool United.

In the 2014/15 season, he made a further two appearances for Exeter, scoring his first goal as a professional against Coventry City in the Football League Trophy. In December 2014, a loan move for the rest of the season to Weston-Super-Mare was completed. This was a successful move for the striker, scoring ten goals in 25 appearances in the Conference South. This is a move that Watkins described as "the best thing" he did in his career.

The following season he started to break into the first team at St James' Park, but it took until March 2016 for the Englishman to start scoring regularly, scoring six goals in eight games during March. He finished the season with ten goals in 22 appearances and was hotly tipped for a successful follow-up season.

A successful season is what Watkins had, making 52 appearances and contributing to 18 goals throughout the season. This level of performance saw him crowned Young Player of the Year in League Two. Having won the award, Watkins said: "I'm gobsmacked really, and hopefully we can push on and get promoted." This dream didn't come true as Exeter lost in the League Two Play-Off Final against Blackpool at Wembley Stadium.

London Calling

This would turn out to be the last game that Watkins played for the Grecians as he moved to Championship side Brentford for an estimated £1.8 million. The Bees manager at the time was one Dean Smith who described Watkins as "a player with an awful lot of potential." 

Despite Smith's faith in Watkins from early on, the striker's best form would come under current Brentford manager, Thomas Frank. Following on from two seasons in the championship, where he managed 23 goals in 93 games, the 2019-20 season was superb. Watkins averaged a goal every two games, scoring 25 goals in 50 games for the Bees.

It was a sense of Deja Vu for the former Exeter man as he won Championship player of the year but also lost in the playoff final at Wembley to West London rivals, Fulham. This time in the most lucrative game in world football where the winner gains promotion to the Premier League and approximately £170 million.

The Big Time

Being the best player in the league and top scorer, he piqued the interest of plenty of Premier League clubs. Dean Smith and Aston Villa secured the signature of the golden boot winner to help solve their lack of goal threat from the previous season. 

For an estimated cost of £33 million, Watkins was a Villain and reunited with his former coach. Smith had nothing but praise for his record signing, saying: "We are looking forward to seeing him show his great qualities in an Aston Villa shirt.

"He is a hugely determined character who has both the ability and personality to succeed at the highest level."

The striker has picked up many admirers so far this season, scoring ten goals, playing every minute in his maiden Premier League venture. One admirer is Gareth Southgate, who has recently called the striker up to the England senior squad. With games against San MarinoAlbania and Poland coming up in the next week to potentially make his debut in.

It has been a meteoric rise for the boy from Torquay, who was rejected aged nine by Exeter and played for Weston-Super-Mare just seven years ago. Every Villa fan has fallen in love with his work rate and the effort he shows in every game. With ten games left of the season, Watkins could notch 15 goals, which would be a great success for the record signing for a first season in the top-flight.