- Crystal Palace tried to sign Ollie Watkins in 2019, but their £11m bid was rejected by Brentford.
- Watkins has since become one of the best strikers in the Premier League, excelling at Aston Villa.
- Missing out on Watkins appears to have been a mistake for Palace, as they have long been in need of a consistent goal-scoring striker.
Crystal Palace are known for their ability to nurture and develop youngsters, whether that is through a stellar academy setup or hoovering up young talent outside of south London.
Wilfried Zaha became the most prolific of their academy graduates, chalking up 458 appearances for the Eagles across his 18-year association with the club.
After creating a long-lasting legacy, the Ivorian bids farewell to Palace roots this summer, paving the way for the next wave of youngsters to become the “new Zaha”, and the talented Eberechi Eze has already taken on that mantle as he aims to surpass the legacy that the former created.
While the Englishman is lighting the touch paper with his sensational performances, academy graduate Jesurun Rak-Sakyi is striving to do similar having already featured twice in the Premier League this season.
Palace have become renowned for cherry-picking the Championship’s hottest prospects and luring them to Selhurst Park, utilising that strategy to capture Michael Olise from Reading in 2021, and Eze from Queens Park Rangers in 2020, but failing in their pursuit to land Ollie Watkins from Brentford in 2019.
Did Crystal Palace nearly sign Ollie Watkins?
While Brentford were chasing promotion out of the second tier in 2019, a whole host of Premier League clubs were converging on their devastating front three as Bryan Mbeumo, Said Benrahma and Watkins were all linked with moves away that summer.
According to the Daily Mail, several clubs were pursuing a move for a 23-year-old Watkins, but Palace showed their hand by submitting a £11m bid for the forward, which was swatted away by the Bees as quickly as it was placed.
During that summer, Roy Hodgson was in the market for a lethal finisher with the funds available from the sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and after amassing 21 goal contributions in 45 games in all competitions in the 2018/19 season, it’s clear to see why the veteran was keen to lure Watkins to Selhurst Park.
Despite their attempts to sign the 5 foot 11 marksman, who was described by Thomas Frank as “a pleasure to work with”, Watkins would go on to amass 25 Championship goals before making a club record £28m switch to Aston Villa in the summer of 2020.
How has Watkins fared at Aston Villa?
During his time in the Midlands, the 27-year-old has established himself as one of the best strikers in the Premier League, spearheading Villa’s resurgence up the table by combining his strong movement, pace in behind and lethal finishing in the area.
While he was an integral figure prior to Unai Emery’s arrival in November, the Spaniard helped elevate Watkin’s game to new heights as the Englishman amassed 12 goals in his last 19 games of the season to help the Villans qualify for the Europa Conference League – their first time in Europe since 2010.
The “unstoppable” talent – as dubbed by Jamie Carragher – has gone toe-to-toe with the most elite strikers in 2023 for his scoring power, ranking in the top 20% for non-penalty xG, top 8% for the percentage of shots on target and top 15% for non-penalty xG per shot when compared to his positional peers across Europe’s top five leagues, via FBref.
While this demonstrates his unequivocal efficiency in front of goal, the high-volume shooter has made such a huge improvement since Emery arrived and the Spaniard has praised Watkins for his rapid progress but also the rest of his team for playing to his strengths and utilising his qualities.
He said: We are trying with Ollie, to help him, to support him, to improve, to take confidence. We practice a lot, offensively and defensively, and of course, we have to take a balance.
“Some players, maybe they are taking it better than others, and one is Ollie Watkins. Every day he is working very, very well and trying to improve, practicing a lot. “He has ambition, and he is a good example for everybody.”
For several years Crystal Palace have been crying out for a striker who can consistently deliver goal-scoring returns.
While Odsonne Edouard is slowly becoming their talisman, scoring four in the opening handful of matches this term, Watkins, who is now worth £35m (€41.2m) according to Football Transfers, would have become an instant revelation at Selhurst Park. Indeed, missing out on him looks to have been a mistake.