“That is the dream, to play for Arsenal one day. It’s a long shot”.
That was Ollie Watkins, interviewed in a red carpet back in March 2020 whilst playing Championship football for Brentford.
If it is still a dream of his to pull on the red and white of The Arsenal, then the door is surely open to a move this summer.
But would the in-form Englishman want to go from starting week in, week out for Europe chasing Aston Villa to be second choice at his boyhood club?
Watkins was one of those players who I felt was out of reach for Arsenal in our search for quality cover for Gabriel Jesus.
He falls into the category of player that is too good to sit on someones bench, but probably not good enough to start for a top team.
With 12 goals since football returned aft the World Cup, no player has scored more in the Premier League (at the time of writing – before Manchester City play Leicester). His brace against Newcastle has taken him to 14 league goals for the season, and 39 in 103 Premier League games.
He certainly has the eye for goal, movement and work rate to interest Arsenal. But 3 years after that interview, would he see sitting on our bench as a step back? And would Edu and the team be willing to splash the cash and meet Villa’s valuation for a 2nd choice striker?
Aston Villa spent £33 million on him back in 2020. You would imagine they would be demanding double that for their top striker.
That might come down a bit with Watkins only have 2-years left on his contract. But you would be surprised if Villa would let him go for less than £50million. And that is a huge price-tag for a 2nd choice player.
Watkins form has taken him to the brink of the England squad. The discussion is him or Ivan Toney as Harry Kane’s back-up. His ambition to be part of the 2024 European Championships England squad would probably reduce if he sat on our bench for the year.
When you look across England, Manchester United are crying out for a new striker. The likes of Watkins and Toney will probably be on their target list behind Kane.
Likewise, if Kane leaves Tottenham for Manchester United, Toney and Watkins are the sort of names they would turn to. Chelsea are also crying out for a new striker, although they have Christopher Nkunku coming in.
Watkins and Toney potentially have a choice of going to Manchester United, Tottenham or Chelsea as first choice striker next summer. All 3 of those would pay the huge fee Brentford / Villa will command. That makes it hard for Arsenal to be an attractive proposition, only being able to offer the chance of being second choice.
Attracking someone to cover Jesus will not be an easy task.
This summer we will probably lose Folarin Balogun. The English youngster is one of the hottest young strikers in Europe right now.
Balgoun has the ambitions to play regular first team football, and is an outside bet for Southgate’s Euro 2024 squad. He is certainly up there in the conversation with Toney and Watkins.
As it stands, Balogun is not good enough to play ahead of Jesus, but also too good (and ambitious) to sit on the bench. Watkins, Toney, and others fall into the same category.
Watkins turns 28 towards the end of this year. Would he sacrifice his last chance to go to a international tournament with England, and play regular first team football for the next 3-4 years, to sit on our bench?
Toney and Watkins are inspirations to every footballer currently in those lower leagues. Both men have gone from League Two to Premier League.
The pair have worked hard to progress through the leagues, and that is a reason why I would be surprised if either of them would give up regular first team football to sit on a title challengers bench.
But then in Watkins case the pull of playing for your boyhood club, even if it is not regularly, might be huge.
This summer could be the last chance for Watkins to make the final step. To go from Conference South in 2014 for Weston-Super-Mare to Champions League would be a remarkable story. And a chance to play for Arsenal, in the Champions League, might not be there in 16 months.
Come August 2024, Watkins will be 4 months shy of his 29th Birthday. Arsenal, and other top clubs, will probably see him as being too old to invest in.
If Watkins were to push for Arsenal this summer, I think it is a deal that would get down. The ball is in his courts.