Ollie Watkins interview: Brentford forward discusses evolution into a No 9
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By Dan Long
Last Updated: 11/12/19 4:23pm
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Ollie Watkins discusses moving in from the wing, Premier League interest, and targeting promotion with Brentford...
Brentford fans were left in a state of despair when Neal Maupay left for Brighton last summer.
The Frenchman did not appear in any of the club's pre-season fixtures due to rumours surrounding his future, but he remained in training and was still part of the first-team squad ahead of the season's curtain-raiser against Birmingham.
Two days and a reported £20m later, he was gone. The Bees had four days to identify a replacement before the deadline on August 9, an arduous task at such a late point in the transfer window.
But as an enterprising club, the solution was found to be right under their noses the whole time - Ollie Watkins was about to come in from the flank.
"I didn't feel like I was ever going to play up front because the recruitment is really good here so there's always strikers coming and going," Watkins told the Sky Sports EFL Podcast.
"I didn't think it was going to be me that was going to be the next person to play there, but I'm enjoying it. I've been told a few times that people think I'll become a No 9 but maybe a bit later on in my career. Hopefully this is the time that I do because I'm loving it at the moment."
The opening weeks of the season were a challenge, both for Watkins and the club as a whole. Thomas Frank's side lost three of their opening five games 1-0 and while his new striker had scored twice - against Middlesbrough and Hull - he was passing up chances to add to that tally.
As August drew to a close and the first international break of the campaign dawned, something clicked when Derby came to town and Watkins scored twice in a 3-0 romp. "He should have had a hat-trick; the second goal was a masterpiece," Frank told the club's official website afterwards.
Eight more strikes have subsequently followed, including a double against rivals QPR and a hat-trick of headers. Considering the switch to an unfamiliar central role, the 23-year-old has filled Maupay's boots with consummate ease, with his 12-goal haul just one behind Maupay's at the same stage last season.
"I'm in the box a lot more and I get the striker goals, as you would say, but my manager has helped me and the coaching staff, even the players that trust me to play in this position," he added.
"I feel like maybe my hold-up play isn't as good as a target man because I don't feel like I am that. I like to run in behind and that's my strength, but I'm trying to work on my hold-up play and if I can do that, I think that's something else I can add to the team.
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"If you are a striker, obviously you'd like to score a nice finesse shot from outside the box every week, but it doesn't quite happen. The tap-ins are the hardest ones to get, so I'm glad that I've got quite a few of them. If it goes in off my shoulder or knee, I don't mind."
Of course, it could have been a completely different story had summer interest from Crystal Palace been firmed up with an offer Brentford's sporting directors Rasmus Ankersen and Phil Giles had deemed acceptable.
However, the reported £11m bid fell way short of the club's valuation, paving the way for them to tie the forward down to an improved four-year contract. It is clear that Watkins is content to bide his time before he makes the step up to the Premier League.
"To be honest, I'm really happy here," Watkins said. "I feel like maybe a couple of seasons ago [we were underdogs] but now I think people actually realise that we play really good football and we're a strong side. I don't think anyone underestimates us now.
"I think this is the best chance out of any year that we've got of doing something really special. We don't concede many goals and, as of late, we've been scoring a lot. I'm really happy, I'm enjoying it, I'm scoring, even if I don't score, I'm happy for whoever else scores. There's a good team connection here."
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Now, after a 7-0 win over Luton at Griffin Park - the club's biggest in 25 years - Watkins harbours hopes that the final season at the historic stadium will end with promotion to the top flight of English football for the first time since the 1946/47 campaign.
"I think that's what everyone's hoping for. It's a shock to realise that we could do something special this year and that could actually become true. It's definitely a tighter league. There are a lot of teams that weren't in it last year that are up there this year and everyone can beat everyone in this league.
"You saw what happened to Leeds at the back end of last year; over the Easter period they didn't pick up as many points as they should have or would've liked and that affected them.
"It's good to always have a quick turnaround with games, especially when you've got momentum because you can build on that and try and get as many points as possible. As long as we keep picking up the results, especially over the busy schedule at Christmas, then I like to think we'll be up there."