30 July 2020 10:33
Ollie Watkins had to make changes to his game as a youngster at Exeter The Premier League beckons for Ollie Watkins. The 24-year-old forward has emerged as one of the stars of the Championship having scored 26 goals for Brentford this season - the most recent of them helping the Bees past Swansea to secure a place in the play-off final at Wembley. On the face of it, his journey has been a smooth one taking him from the lower leagues with Exeter City through to the Championship with Brentford where he has increased his goal tally in each of his three seasons. In fact, there was a time when one of the more exciting prospects in English football was struggling to convince his coaches that he was worthy of a place in Exeter's reserve side. Paul Tisdale, the manager who gave Watkins his Football League debut, is a huge admirer of the player and the man.
"Ollie really liked playing on the left wing," Tisdale tells Sky Sports. 2:55 Watkins was the star of the show as Brentford defeated Swansea Watkins was the star of the show as Brentford defeated Swansea "I went to watch him when he was on loan there and he was just not making any progress because he was stood on the wing waiting for people to pass the ball to him. "I told him at that point that he could not play there any more because it was not helping him psychologically in terms of how he saw his contribution to the game. "The only way that was going to happen was if he played in a position where he felt that at any moment the ball could be coming his way. "In terms of a game of football, most people, most supporters, visualise the game in terms of having the ball. It only happens a few times in a game. "You might get that opportunity to become a professional because of what you can do with the ball but you don't get selected because of it. You get selected because of how you apply the instructions that you were given by the manager and how you fit into the team. You win or lose because a coach has got all 11 players thinking the same thing at the same time. There are so many players out there with great ability who have a bad attitude but Ollie has got everything. "But when he arrived on the scene as a young professional, he was no different to any other young player, he was thinking about what he was going to do when he received the ball. "Most of the game is off the ball. It is what happens on the turnover or when the ball goes out of play. Are you standing in the right place at the right time and thinking the right thing? "A football player might only touch the ball 20 times in a game so where is he moving for the rest of the game? Watkins enjoyed his best season in front of goal after a position change "With Ollie, it was something very specific and something very technical in terms of his application of the game. He had to work out where he was going to fit into the game. "Ollie was a teenager and saw himself as someone who was part of a passing process. In other words, he was relying on that passing process for someone to give him the ball. "Maybe that is possible at the very top level if you know your team is going to have the ball all the time and you can be certain that ball is coming. They have to engage in all parts of the game so their contribution level goes up. 12:23 Watkins on his battle for the golden boot with Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic Watkins on his battle for the golden boot with Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic "The repositioning of Ollie psychologically was to make him understand that he was relying on this for him to make an impact. "I said to him, 'Just think about this, Ollie. What happens if you go on the pitch and nobody passes you the ball. How can you come off that pitch and still have people saying, wow, that Ollie Watkins played really well today?' You can go and win that ball. Suddenly, just by thinking about the game differently, he is psychologically repositioned and any time that he does get the ball passed to him is a bonus. Interestingly, Watkins finally moved back to the centre-forward position this past season and responded by finishing as the second highest goalscorer in the Championship. "That is why I smile to myself now when I see him doing so well as a striker after playing on the left for a couple of years at Brentford," adds Tisdale. "The reason he got his move was because we had moved him into that position. Ollie Watkins' progress might not be over yet. Paul Tisdale was manager of Exeter City for 12 years, winning two promotions, before joining MK Dons in 2018 and winning promotion to League One in his first season there.