Aston Villa broke their transfer record to sign Ollie Watkins from Brentford but Emile Heskey is unsure about whether the £28 million striker can make the step up to Premier League football, speaking exclusively to HITC.
It’s funny how quickly football changes.
During the first half of last season, it was an error-prone backline which looked likely to plunge Aston Villa into a survival battle during their first season back in the big-time.
But, once football returned following a three-month lay-off in the spring, Villa’s biggest weakness suddenly became their strength. A run of eight points from their final four games saved the Midland giants from the drop, with a much-improved defensive record at the heart of a rapid revival.
So, with Smith seemingly finding a way to keep the goals out at one end, focus will now turn to putting away the chances carved out by Conor Hourihane, Anwar El Ghazi and captain fantastic Jack Grealish at the other.
Though it remains to be seen whether £28 million record signing Watkins can make an immediate transition from the Championship to the Premier League.
As Dwight Gayle, Anthony Knockaet, Cameron Jerome and Matej Vydra will tell you, this is not an easy leap to make.
“The thing is with Villa, they’ve not done particularly great in the transfer window as of late. They have struggled with strikers,” says Emile Heskey, who spent three years in claret and blue between 2009 and 2012.
“(Watkins) has done very well at Brentford, and scored a lot of goals. But is he the answer? Only time will tell.
“Its going to be a difficult job for him because you’re going from Championship up into the Premier League and that’s not easy – as we’ve seen time and time again.”
Watkins was converted from a sprightly winger into a ruthless penalty-box poacher by Thomas Frank at Brentford and Heskey is keen to find out what sort of a role he will occupy under Smith – the manager who brought the former Exeter City starlet to Griffin Park in 2017.
Interestingly, the 24-year-old started in the number nine position during the 3-1 Carabao Cup victory against Burton Albion in midweek – marking his debut with a trademark tap-in thanks to a fine Neil Taylor cross.
“He likes to play off the wing again so it will be interesting to see if he actually plays as a number nine or plays off the wing and drifts a bit,” Heskey adds.
“It’s going to be a tough one for Villa, him and Villa, because they don’t really play possession based football.”