Villa lead­ing the race to sign Brent­ford striker Watkins

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By John Percy

As­ton Villa are ready to move for £25 mil­lion-rated Ol­lie Watkins af­ter Brent­ford’s fail­ure to reach the Premier League.

Villa, Crys­tal Palace and Sh­effield United are all in­ter­ested in the Brent­ford striker, who is poised to leave this sum­mer fol­low­ing the west Lon­don club’s 2-1 de­feat in the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal.

Watkins, 24, was the joint lead­ing scorer in the Cham­pi­onship with 26 goals (thanks to his play-off strike) and Villa, who are man­aged by for­mer Brent­ford head coach Dean Smith, are now se­ri­ous con­tenders to of­fer him a route to the top flight.

Smith was in charge at Brent­ford when Watkins (right) was signed from Ex­eter in July 2017 and be­lieves he could flour­ish in the Premier League, with his abil­ity to play both cen­trally and out wide seen as key qual­i­ties. Brent­ford will de­mand a record fee for a Cham­pi­onship player of around £25 mil­lion, af­ter los­ing in ex­tra time to

Ful­ham at Wem­b­ley on Tues­day. It is un­der­stood there is no re­lease clause in Watkins’s con­tract and the fee will need to eclipse the cur­rent record of £21mil­lion paid by Le­ices­ter to Nor­wich for James Mad­di­son in June 2018.

Af­ter the game, Thomas Frank, Brent­ford’s head coach, said: “I must say it [play­ers leav­ing] is not my big­gest con­cern right now.

“No­body knows what is go­ing to hap­pen. I know one thing: we will have a very, very strong side go­ing

Alex Neil’s side went straight back down, los­ing five of their fi­nal six league games, de­spite some heavy in­vest­ment in the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow.

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