While Brentford fans may not have been overly thrilled with Ollie Watkins’ late winner for Aston Villa in their most recent meeting, it is undeniable the former Bees’ precocious talent has turned into a world-class striker.
Arriving at Griffin Park from Exeter in 2017 as a young winger with immense potential, Watkins left as a prolific goalscorer, scoring 26 goals during a 2019-20 campaign that saw Brentford agonisingly miss out on Premier League promotion.
Although possessing incredible pace and deceptive strength, Bees boss Thomas Frank highlighted what really makes the 27-year-old stand out, saying: “Ollie has two major abilities: working unbelievably hard on the pitch and in the gym, and the other, the fact he wants to learn.
“Those two things are crucial. And then he has a great package when it comes to physicality, pace, technique, game understanding.”
Watkins’ hard-working attitude was key in his seamless step-up from League Two to the Championship, scoring ten goals in each of his first two seasons for Brentford from a wide position.
And when top scorer Neal Maupay subsequently left for Brighton at the start of the 2019/20 season, Frank knew the Frenchman’s replacement as a central goal scorer was already in the Bees’ ranks.
Asked if he ever imagined the 21-year-old he first met would go on to become such an accomplished striker, Frank added: “You can never predict how a player will perform in the future.
“I never had a limit he couldn’t reach when he left us. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, just happy for him.”
After Brentford’s heartbreaking defeat to Fulham in the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley, Aston Villa and Dean Smith gave the player his Premier League chance.
Starting 37 games for Villa in his debut season, Watkins went on to score 14 goals as well as make his international debut.
Now an England regular and playing European football, Watkins has become an integral part of Villa’s current success as he continues to take his career to the next level.
On the forward, current manager Unai Emery said: “He’s amazing. He [brings] quality to the squad, scores goals, and always is very competitive.
“He is adapting each game to what we need in each moment defensively and offensively.
“He was holding up the ball very well [against Brentford] and he scored. He was fantastic for us.”
Now entering the prime of his career, stopping him is becoming increasingly harder, something Frank jokingly alluded to ahead of their latest reacquaintance.
Speaking ahead of Villa’s 2-1 win over Brentford, Frank grinned as he said: “Am I allowed to say just kick him down? Can we just do that?”
While his time at Brentford may have come to an end years ago and some may hold a grudge for his goal celebrations during the recent win, the club can nevertheless look back with pride for the part they played in putting this unstoppable force on its current trajectory.