Falling in the midst of a record-breaking season which saw Exeter City progress to a Wembley Play-Off Final, Ollie Watkins followed in the footsteps of Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli by winning the EFL Young Player of the Year accolade in 2016.
A direct forward with an eye for the spectacular, comparisons with the latter are inescapable. There’s still a long way to go to reach such heights, but with 11 goals in 38 appearances including three strikes during his last four outings, it’s fair to say that Ollie is coping with the weight of expectation.
BEES spoke to the in-form 21-year-old earlier this season.
Thanks for talking to us, Ollie. Having come through the ranks at Exeter City, how big a decision was it to leave Devon this summer?
It was and it wasn’t. I was at Exeter for ten years – it was home - however I want to progress and play at the highest level possible for the longest time possible. I want to achieve something and I wouldn’t be testing myself if I stayed in my comfort zone. The gaffer here showed great desire to get me to sign and I’m glad that I did.
Your journey from Exeter’s Academy to the First Team wasn’t always plain sailing, was it?
I went on trial for the Under-9s and I didn’t make the grade – concentration seemed to be the main issue amongst a few others. I went away for a couple of years and enjoyed my football with my Sunday League team. I was scouted again by Exeter later down the line and they gave me the opportunity.
Did this spur you on to be successful when you made the breakthrough in 2014?
Players often drop in and out of academies and others come into the game from Non-League and universities, so it wasn’t something on my mind, to be honest. When I got my chance in the First Team I didn’t take it too seriously – in my mind I thought I was a First-Team player already by that point. It was after that first spell when I realised what it would take to take to stay there.
You were a fan favourite at Exeter; what was your stand-out moment at St James Park?
Either my first career hat-trick at Newport County the day after my birthday, or scoring two in the Semi-Final of the Play-Offs. Netting two late goals in a victory over Plymouth Argyle would round off the top three.
Talking of the Play-Offs, how much of an impact did the defeat at Wembley last season have on you as a young player?
I think about the Play-Off Final every day. We had a great year at Exeter, going from bottom in November to the top seven come the end of the season, but I didn’t turn up that day. You can’t make excuses but it’s an experience which I’ll learn from – you’ve got to leave everything on the pitch and I don’t think I did that at Wembley. You’ve got to pick yourself up and go again and hopefully it’ll be a different outcome if I get there again.
Have you felt a sense of pressure to impress this season after arriving at Brentford as the EFL Young Player of the Year?
It was a great achievement but there’s no additional pressure because of it - that’s what I did last year, now it’s time to focus on pushing on again. Hopefully I can achieve something similar in the future.
Does seeing what Dele Alli went on to achieve after winning the same accolade with Milton Keynes Dons in 2015 give you something to aim for?
Everyone wants to play in the Premier League – it’s the aim to get there and hopefully stay there. He achieved that at a younger age than me; he’s at a different stage of his career now but hopefully I can go on to emulate what he’s done. I get the comparison a lot – perhaps we look similar! I can see some similarities but I’m my own person and I’ve got to focus on my own game.
What are the main differences you’ve encountered between life in the Championship and football in the fourth tier?
The ball is on the floor a lot more than in League Two - I found it very physical at that level and you’ve got to take your chances. In the Championship I’ve got some great players around me – they get me the ball and then it’s down to me to do something from there.
Both Dean (Smith) and Tis (Paul Tisdale) are great Managers and great people – I’ve enjoyed playing for both of them. There’s a great spirit at Brentford, coming in for breakfast first thing and spending time together at Jersey Road. Everything’s good and I’m really enjoying it.
You spoke in the summer about the need to prove yourself to the group. Having found the net 11 times this term is it fair to say that you’ve accomplished that?
I still think I’ve got more to give but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself – I won’t take the highs too high and the lows too low. It’s important to maintain a balance, to keep performing and contributing goals and assists. I’ve settled in well to the group; the lads are always dishing out the banter – I think I’m an easy target as I always nibble!
Finally, we can’t let you go without asking you about that Ted Baker video…
It was Paul Tisdale who got me the opportunity, he knows Mr. Baker and he put me in touch for an Ambassadorial role. I’m not one to turn something like that down and Ted and I have become close since then – I’m grateful to Tis for doing that for me. It’s been a great experience – not many footballers have the chance to do something like that – so I’m looking forward to what the future holds. The lads have given me a bit of banter about the Ted Baker gear but that comes with the territory!
60 Seconds with Ollie…
Which team do you use most often on FIFA?
If you could swap lives with anyone for the day who would it be?
Favourite childhood TV show?
Describe yourself in three words…
Kind, ambitious, caring
Best friend in football?
Best way to spend a day off?
Shopping and going for a coffee
Worst Brentford team-mate to be stuck in a lift with?
Rico Henry – he wouldn’t have a clue what to do!
Last song you listened to?
Luther Vandross, Never Too Much
Favourite clothing brand?
If you could teleport anywhere in the world where would you go?
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