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Scout and About: EFL Young player of the Year Ollie Watkins - A potential SAFC target?

Whoever takes over from Departed Dave in the coming weeks is going to oversee a mammoth rebuild of a squad currently not fit for purpose. They’d do worse than to look at the reigning EFL Young Player of the Year.

Exeter City v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Huddersfield Town’s remarkable achievement of gaining promotion to the Premier League on Monday is proof that no matter what your expectations are at the beginning of a season, the right man in charge of the right characters can achieve something amazing.

Getting this managerial appointment right is absolutely crucial. The league is packed with clubs that will have ambitions of challenging for promotion, and current betting markets give us shorter odds of going down than going up as champions.

We are going to start our season in August with a budget lower than the other ‘big’ Championship clubs, but given the enormity of the squad overhaul required, appointing the right manager and bringing in the right players will ultimately be the difference between laying the foundations for a return to the promised land or a long stint in the EFL.

By my reckoning, Sunderland are going to need to bring in four forwards before the end of August. Under the microscope this week is the man poised to become League Two’s most expensive ever export: Ollie Watkins.

Exeter City were pipped to promotion by Blackpool in Sunday’s League Two play-off final, and in the process surely lost any chance of keeping their prized asset.

In truth, even if Exeter did emerge victorious at Wembley, it would still be hard to envisage Ollie Watkins plying his trade at St. James Park this coming season. The youngster’s performances for The Grecians over the past 18 months have resulted in plenty of interest in his services from the Championship and beyond, with a move to Aston Villa falling through as recently as January.

Watkins is a forward, but is more dynamic than your prototypical number nine and more direct than a habitual number ten. He’s a nine-and-a-half if you like, utilising good pace, impressive strength and intelligent dribbling skills to cause problems for League Two defenders.

He also boasts excellent movement, showing a willingness to move into channels and drop into holes between the midfield and defence. His productivity over the past season reflects his importance to Exeter, chalking up 13 goals and 10 assists in 45 league matches and picking up the EFL Young Player of the Year award last month.

It’s pretty much certain that Watkins will become League Two’s most expensive ever player this summer, with City boss Paul Tisdale slapping a hefty £4m price tag on the head of his frontman. Leeds, Sheffield United and Derby have all reportedly been sniffing around, and with Aston Villa also expected to revive their interest, Exeter may be in a position to hold out for the highest offer.

It’s common knowledge that Sunderland need to bring in a squad’s worth of forwards this summer, and Watkins – like Marcus Maddison and Jason Cummings in recent editions of this feature – ticks a lot of the boxes that the club should be looking for as they look to rebuild from the smouldering mess of pathetic ashes that David Moyes has left in his wake.