Once upon a time in the west country: the origin story of Ollie Watkins

One former manager believes England’s latest hero would not be the player he is had he not started at Exeter

Everyone loves an origin story embellished with a healthy dose of back projection. But when I first met Ollie Watkins in 2013 on a glorious summer’s day at the Cat and Fiddle training ground in Exeter, I had no inkling he would ever provide an iconic England moment.

He was 17 and it was the first day back at pre-season training. The director of football, Steve Perryman, the legendary FA Cup winner and Tottenham record appearance maker, introduced us. Watkins was a genial 17-year-old but if I’d been looking for future players likely to decide Euro 2024 semi-finals, I would have hung around Manchester City’s academy to bump into Cole Palmer or Phil Foden. Watkins was quick but teenagers often make older, out-of-condition teammates look slow on the first day back. And he trained with the first team only to make up the numbers. He knew his place.

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