As a football fan, you never like to see the best players leave your club even if you’re a Barcelona fan and your team is £198m better off. The fee that Exeter City received for Ollie Watkins from Brentford this summer is much more modest.
Despite officially being undisclosed at the request of the Championship club, the figure is reported to be in the region of £1.8m, just edging the record fee that City received for Matt Grimes from Swansea a few seasons ago.
As a club, Exeter have good form of negotiating good deals for players as they move on to ‘bigger and better’ things, and no doubt any deal agreed with Brentford will include handsome add-ons based on performance, future transfers and the like, we’ve all played Football Manager, we all know how it works. With that in mind, we take a look at why Watkins’ move spells good news for Exeter City.
This move cements Exeter’s position as the best academy in the South West having produced a string of young, talented footballers who come to play at a higher level. Starting with Moxey and Friend, we’ve seen the likes of Golbourne, Sercombe, Nichols, Grimes and Goss all go on to play for bigger clubs. This is not to mention the abundance of ‘homegrown’ talent that we boast in the current first team with the likes of JMT, Christy Pym, Harley and Tillson.
Whereas Exeter cannot compete with the budgets of other clubs in the South West such as Plymouth and bother Bristol teams, the continued investment in the youth system at the club is paying dividends, culminating in big moves this summer for both Ethan Ampadu and Ollie Watkins. The youth infrastructure that Exeter boast including the quality of coaching is something to be truly proud of. The likes of Steve Perryman could easily work at clubs in a higher division but is truly an asset to Exeter and his guidance in bringing players through the youth ranks has been crucial in Exeter being a competitive force in the Football League.
Brentford the perfect destination
Once it as clear that Ollie was going to leave, Brentford was the best possible destination for him. Watkins’ game time would likely have been limited at both Villa and Leeds who were both linked with the player not to mention Southampton, a Premier League club. Whilst Ollie is more than capable of playing in the Premier League in the future, his development is best served at present at a club where he is likely to play more.
Brentford have also got a fantastic reputation for bringing young players through, they have a superb scouting system for the lower leagues and seem to have a knack for spotting good, young talent and producing solid players such as Andre Gray and Scott Hogan. In both of these cases there was a significant profit made by the club. If Brentford do manage to turn Ollie Watkins into a £10-12m player, this will further benefit Exeter’s finances in the future through any add-ons that have been attached to the deal.
Money, Money, Money
This deal secures Exeter’s financial future in the medium term, ensuring that we can maintain our playing budget for the next 4 years. Whilst many City fans will be frustrated that the money hasn’t been spent on a like-for-like replacement for Ollie, this is a smart move from the club and has meant that we are able to keep continuity through most of the team heading into the new season, something that will prove to be invaluable once the games start coming thick and fast.
It is rare to find such a talent as Watkins in League Two and Exeter as a cub were lucky to hold on to the player for as long as we did. As a club, we are not in a position to spend transfer fees on players and the business of bringing in Ryan Brunt on a free transfer could prove to be very shrewd indeed if he can maintain fitness over the course of the season.
There could be trouble ahead?
This deal is not all rainbows and sunshine however and City could encounter problems in the future. The most immediate of these is the challenge of replacing the goals that Ollie Watkins brought to the club last season. With 16 goals and 13 assists this is not going to be easy and it is more than possible that Exeter will struggle to do this, especially since City’s new no.14, Ryan Brunt, has been injured for the last 16 months.
However, this creativity does not have to be burden on one player. With the attacking prowess of Wheeler and Reid and given Liam McAlinden’s prolific goal scoring record from the bench, we may well see the challenge of replacing Watkin’s goals being spread across the frontline.
Perhaps more concerning in the long term is the possibility that City may once again get ‘Ampadued’ [verb – meaning to lose a young player to a bigger club for a fee much below market value see Ethan Ampadu]. With the club producing young talent on a more regular basis, don’t be surprised to see more teams coming to the Exeter academy to scout future talent. Whilst this is a challenge that may face the club in the long term, it is perhaps the more concerning problem, threatening a significant source of income for City.
It is perhaps for this reason that the rumours around Jack Sparkes becoming this season’s 1931 player may be true. It is easy to see why the club would feel it would be in their interest to secure some of its more talented individuals with professional contracts, something we were unable to do with Ethan Ampadu. If this Is to happen, it would be an interesting direction for the 1931 fund to move in, perhaps investment in the youth system as opposed to bringing in external players signals the future for the 1931 fund.
All in all, it would have been difficult to have kept Ollie at Exeter any longer. We don’t boast a huge playing budget, we aren’t able to offer him football in the top two tiers of the football league and I believe that this deal reflects the ethics of Exeter as a club. When millions of boys and girls grow up wishing to play professional football, we have presented a young, very talented individual to do so at one of the highest levels in the game, serving as a role model for the next generation of boys and girls at St James Park. Who knows, one of them may be the next Ollie Watkins themselves.
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