Ollie Watkins ready to complete remarkable journey with England bow

Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
·4-min read

Ollie Watkins has gone from Weston-super-Mare to a World Cup qualification campaign with England in six years, making the striker all the more determined to grasp this chance and learn from skipper Harry Kane.

As injuries took their toll on the Three Lions attack, Gareth Southgate turned to the 25-year-old who has impressed in the Premier League since last summer’s big-money switch from Brentford to Aston Villa.

Watkins’ call-up is the latest chapter in a remarkable story which has taken the striker from Exeter – and a loan spell with the National League North Seagulls – to the England set-up for the upcoming World Cup qualification triple-header against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

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“Obviously it’s a nice feeling being here. I’m just trying to take it all in, really,” the Villa striker said.

“Looking back it has been a bit of a journey but it has been a great journey and I’ve had some tough times on the way but also some good ones.

“I was actually speaking to the strength and conditioning coach here, Ben (Rosenblatt), about three-and-a-half years ago, asking him – because he came into Brentford for a day – ‘what’s Harry Kane’s routine like? How is it?’

“A few years later I’m here training with him so, yeah, it is a bit of a shock but enjoyable as well.”

Harry Kane scores against Aston Villa
Harry Kane scores against Aston Villa (Tim Keeton/PA)

To put Watkins’ ascent into context, he was netting in Weston-super-Mare’s 2-1 loss at Whitehawk in National League South the day after Kane scored against Lithuania on his England debut in March 2015.

“I’ve spoken to him a couple of times, actually,” the new boy said of Kane, who is only two years his senior.

“He’s a really nice guy. I was just asking him how he trains, what he does, how he looks after himself, just to get some inside knowledge on how he works.

“I think he’s got everything, really, so definitely someone I can learn off and see how he works on a day-to-day basis.”

Watkins, too, can be an inspiration to others, having come through the ranks at Exeter and flourished in the Championship with Brentford before breaking into the Premier League.

Ollie Watkins, left, scores for Exeter against Carlisle in 2017
Ollie Watkins, left, scores for Exeter against Carlisle in 2017 (David Davies/PA)

“I think just to keep believing, as cliched as it sounds,” he said of advice for youngsters.

“I think you need to have that self-belief but also you’re never actually as far away as you think.

“There were times when I was at York away sat in the stands and thinking ‘ah, get me on the pitch’, playing in reserve games.

“But it only takes one injury, you’re in the squad and then if you take your chance, I think you find your feet and you could become a regular.

“That’s what happened for me. I took my chance, I played well and I then ended up moving to Brentford and it went up from there, so just to keep believing and work hard, really.”

Watkins has scored 12 goals since his move to Villa Park, including a hat-trick in October’s stunning 7-2 defeat of reigning Premier League champions Liverpool.

“One of the lads I used to play with messaged me before and said ‘all the best against (Virgil) Van Dijk tonight, mate’,” Watkins recalled. “I said ‘yeah, I know!’

Ollie Watkins, second right, celebrates his hat-trick against Liverpool
Watkins, second right, celebrates his hat-trick against Liverpool and Virgil Van Dijk, left (Rui Vieira/PA)

“Then a couple of hours later I come off the pitch scoring a hat-trick, so I text him saying ‘yeah, it went well, didn’t it?’

“Obviously I spent a lot of time at Weston and I think that played a big part in my development.

“Playing men’s football for the first time, going out on loan, realising how much it meant to the people – they have mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

“I definitely had a switch in my mentality so I think Weston was a massive key part of my development.”

Such experiences have kept Watkins grounded, meaning he is focused on the here and now rather than the potential of playing at this summer’s rearranged Euros.

“I’m not trying to think too far ahead,” he said. “I just take each day and training session as it comes, focus on the next. That’s what I always got told.

“I’m just going to try and enjoy this week, work hard and make a good impression and then see where it goes from there.

“After that, try and perform well week in, week out for my club and then see what happens.”