THE SECRET SCOUT: I spotted Ollie Watkins in 2017… when he was in midfield at Exeter!
Our scout is a top football expert who attends matches each week searching for the next star. He’ll bring you his verdict in Sportsmail.
When I first saw him at Exeter as a 21-year-old in League Two, Ollie Watkins was playing as a midfielder and I was intrigued to be told his running stats were the best at the club in terms of speed, intensity and distance.
The fact that he could break from midfield and score double figures was an achievement at that level when most of the teams were playing a longer game.
Our scout first saw Ollie Watkins at Exeter as a 21-year-old in League Two and was impressed
Simply, it means longer runs to get into the box and with so many defences sitting deep and restricting room, it’s rare to see this kind of player.
Watkins has always made these runs, though, and made them well.
Back then I really liked him but will admit that I did not envisage his subsequent success as a lead frontman.
At Brentford I subsequently saw him play further up as a wide player of three in a very good footballing team, but only when Neal Maupay left for Brighton in 2019 did they try him through the middle.
He had done this sporadically at Exeter when called upon and his progress in that position has surprised and pleased me.
The thing about Watkins is that he is a first-class character. He speaks well, he lives well and everybody who has worked with him speaks highly of him.
Watkins scored a stunning hat-trick as Aston Villa demolished Liverpool at Villa Park
Before joining Villa I know he spoke to other big clubs and he impressed them as a person. Ultimately, the bond formed with Villa boss Dean Smith at Brentford won the day and his hat-trick on Sunday was special for both manager and player.
As he matures, he has remained unselfish and makes good runs for others. He lacks real physical strength, but his determination to hold defenders off is good enough.
He seeks areas of the field where some orthodox centre forwards will not go. From his midfield background, he likes to go wider and deeper a little like Harry Kane at his best.
Having said that, most of his goals have traditionally come from close range. He has a gift of drawing off a defender, finding space and scoring.
From the outset I never doubted his qualities but I have been a little surprised that he has done so well as a front man. I am delighted.
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