• Kieran Horn


Former Exeter City forward Ollie Watkins has received his first England call up for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers after impressing Gareth Southgate with his performances for Aston Villa.

Ollie Watkins has now followed in the footsteps of Ethan Ampadu by earning an international call up having come through the Exeter City academy, and their current manager Matt Taylor couldn’t be prouder.

“I’m delighted for Ollie, he deserves it, I think his performances this season have been exceptional considering the jump he’s made.

“He successfully made the jump from league two to the championship but questions would’ve still been asked in relation to whether or not he could make it in the Premier League on the back of doing so well at Brentford, and I think he’s answered those questions.”

Watkins, 25, began his career at Exeter City and despite Taylor having spent the last four years at St James’ Park, one year of which was as an academy coach, he never quite was able to work with Watkins but still recognises his undeniable talent.

“I missed him as a young player coming through, he would’ve been in the academy but I wouldn’t have seen him.

“I came back in Ollie’s season where he was unplayable, obviously that didn’t coincide, but I came back in that season, I had no part to play in that, but what a fantastic accolade in terms of what he’s gone on to achieve.”

Watkins was given his big break in the Exeter first team in the second half of the 2016/17 season, and it’s fair to say that this season a few other academy players have burst onto the scene, most notably Josh Key and Joel Randall.

That duo have shown they can compete physically with the very best England’s fourth tier has to offer, something Taylor believes Watkins also did during his time in the South West

“Young players have to get themselves up to a certain level physically and he spent a lot of time in the gym.

“Ollie Watkins played the biggest part in his own career because he had a fantastic attitude to work day in day out and he put himself in a position physically to be able to compete on a football pitch.”

While several graduates from the Exeter academy have gone on to play at the highest level, Watkins was by no means at that stage when he first made his way out of the academy as a teenager.

“As an 18-year-old he was out on loan and wasn’t playing in the first team because he wasn’t up to the level so it wasn’t as if he was a Premier League player direct from our academy.

“Paul Tisdale and the coaching staff here turned him into a top league two player and he went to Brentford and they turned him into a Premier League player.

“So, you can talk about the academy in terms of producing players but when Ollie was 18 and he left the academy within the first team structure he certainly wasn’t an England international then.”

Seven years on from making his way out of the Grecians academy, Watkins will be the first graduate from the City academy to make an appearance for England since Cliff Bastin’s back in 1938.