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Ollie Watkins' Incredible Journey From Sweeping Changing Rooms To England International

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Ollie Watkins' Incredible Journey From Sweeping Changing Rooms To England International

Exactly four years on from starting for Exeter in a 1-1 draw with Luton Town in League Two, Ollie Watkins has been called up to the England squad for the first time.

The 25-year-old has been rewarded by Gareth Southgate for a fine run of form for his first season in the Premier League, where he's scored 10 goals in 22 appearances for Aston Villa.

But it's been anything but a straightforward journey for Watkins. He was initially rejected by Exeter as a 9-year-old as the Devon club felt he wasn't ready during a trial as a youngster.

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However, Watkins didn't give up on his dream and was given a second chance - joining the Grecians at Under 11's level and excelling in the youth ranks before signing a professional contract in 2014.

But in order to properly prepare him for men's football, Watkins was sent on loan to Weston-super-Mare in the sixth tier of English football.

During his stint in non-league, Watkins notched 10 goals in 25 appearances. He also helped in other departments, such as cleaning the changing rooms.

It was in the lower echelons where Dean Smith first saw him play.

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"I'm not sure how the manager spotted me, but he said he first saw me at Weston Super Mare. I never knew that until he signed me at Brentford," Watkins said in an interview with Sky Sports.

"To be honest, it made me think: 'I don't want to come back here, so I need to make sure I work hard, and aim to be playing at a higher level, and try to be successful in my career.'

"And that is in no way disrespectful to non-league, but it gives you the determination to push on, and motivates you."

Following that productive loan spell in 2014/15, Watkins ended up just about making Exeter's 24-man squad for a pre-season tour of Scotland.

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He wasn't supposed to go but an injury left-back meant manager Paul Tisdale included him and he quickly displayed versatility - whether that was in midfield or making coffees for teammates and staff on the coach to away games.

In total, the man who grew up idolising Thierry Henry notched 26 goals for Exeter and would then go on to hit double figures in three consecutive seasons in the Championship with Brentford - including 25 in 46 appearances in his final season.

Image: PA
Image: PA

That prompted Dean Smith to sign him for a second time, this time for an eyebrow-raising fee of £33 million.

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Image: PA
Image: PA

And now Gareth Southgate has him in his plans for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland, having just edged out fellow free-scoring uncapped striker Patrick Bamford of Leeds United.

"There're a number of positions in this squad that have been really close calls and we felt we wanted an extra striker," Southgate explained in his press conference.

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"We're really pleased with Harry (Kane) and (Dominic) Calvert-Lewin and what they've done. Tammy Abraham hasn't really been involved for Chelsea over the last four to six weeks.

"And both Ollie and Patrick in particular, their goals record has been good. We like the personalities of both. Ollie is a player we've had less interaction with in the past. It's going to be good to get to know him.

"We like his pressing, the speed and the runs in behind. He's got some improvement to make in linking the game, but in his first season in the Premier League at a big club, he's done exceptionally well.

"That's been a really close call because all the things I've said about Ollie I could have said for Patrick as well, so he's very unfortunate."

Should Watkins feature in the international break, he will follow in the footsteps of Jamie Vardy and Callum Wilson in playing non-league football and going on to play for England.

Featured Image Credit: Archant/Bristol Live/ PA Images

Topics: Aston Villa, Ollie Watkins, Football, England

Josh Lawless
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