Desire to reach the big-time is driving Marley Watkins and the Reds

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THERE was the story of Dimitri Payet in the January transfer window and then there was the far more wholesome tale of Marley Watkins.

Both had similar motives in putting in transfer requests to their respective clubs, West Ham and Barnsley, after having their heads turned by thoughts of moves elsewhere.

Barnsley's Marley Watkins ('Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

Barnsley's Marley Watkins ('Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

But that was where the similarities ended.

While the egotistical Payet displayed hubris that was thoroughly disdainful to the Hammers and their supporters in order to force through a transfer, Watkins’s actions showed rather more respect, with a refreshingly ‘old-school’ approach from which scores of modern-day footballers could learn.

After learning that there was top-flight interest in him, Watkins – whose Oakwell deal expires in the summer – informed head coach Paul Heckingbottom of his decision to submit a transfer request, which was subsequently rejected by the club.

This was the end of the matter. There was no preening or sulking from the Welshman, just a desire to get back on with his job. Sometimes things can be that simple.

Not that it has affected his performances either. Far from it.

Watkins has been a workaholic presence for Barnsley this season and takes an immense amount of pride in the fact that he ran 12 kilometres – more than any other Reds player – in last weekend’s draw at Reading.

The other personal stuff can wait until the summer although it has not escaped his attention that Barnsley may yet have a sniff of the Premier League themselves.

On his decision to table a transfer request, Watkins said: “It was literally the fact that it was a Premier (League) club.

“I told him (Heckingbottom) before I did it as I respect him so much and he understood. At the end of the day, it is my career and my choice.

“I was not wanting to go and kick up a fuss, but it was more the Premier League thing. I told him out of respect, but said if I does not happen, it does not happen.

“Basically, when you hear Premier League teams are interested, your head gets turned.

“Everyone wants to play at the highest level and it was nothing to do with not wanting to be (at Barnsley).

“It does not come around all the time, you have got to try and make it happen. It was rejected, but it does not matter. I am here and I am happy to be here.”

Hard work and getting on with it is chapter and verse in the fluctuating career of Watkins, whose late grandfather Vernon was a revered poet from Swansea and a friend of the incomparable Dylan Thomas.

Watkins dusted himself down from the pain of rejection at boyhood club Swansea and some dark moments in the comparative footballing backwaters of Cheltenham and Bath before getting his career on an upward curve again at Hereford United, Inverness and finally Barnsley.

Progression to the top flight would complete an epic journey and if he and his Reds team-mates do manage to gatecrash the play-offs and somehow surpass their extraordinary feats of last season, it would represent one of the most romantic footballing stories of recent times.

Alongside Watkins, others such as Marc Roberts and Angus MacDonald have been brought up in the hard footballing school of the non-league circuit.

Several others have also grafted for everything they have got after starting their careers in unheralded surroundings.

Barnsley’s play-off hopes may represent a long shot, but if hunger and desire counts for anything among a collective set of players, they will have few peers.

Hunger is to be found in abundance in Watkins, mindful of the rise of his friend and team-mate at Hereford in Sam Clucas, whose has risen to the big time at Hull City.

It is something he is ravenous to replicate.

On aiming for the top flight, Watkins said: “Others have done it.

“There is Jamie Vardy and Sam Clucas, who is my mate. It is do-able and definitely the aim. That is the dream.

“Our players appreciate it more. This is a good league with good stadiums and lots of fans and good pitches. But there is no point getting here and being happy.

“You want to get to the top as high as possible and that is want we all want to do. We are hungry for more.

“In football, you get a lot of hype. At the end of the day, we can beat any team on our day, if we are at it.”

The confidence that Watkins displays is not borne out of brashness, with performances backing up his belief that Barnsley are bona fide play-off contenders.

Unfortunate not to take three points at Reading last weekend, the Reds comprehensively beat Aston Villa in midweek.

Rival supporters may have viewed that result as a head-turning one, but it was no surprise to those in the Barnsley dressing room.

The likes of Leeds and Derby can also attest to their credentials.

Watkins said: “At the end of the day, it is 11 versus 11 and we are all human beings.

“I am not interested in all this hype people get from other clubs. I believe we can beat anyone on our day.

“I would be disappointed if we don’t reach the play-offs, but we have got to be at it.

“Like we did against Leeds. With that intensity, no one can live with us.

“We have all got to knuckle down and it is three months of living it 24/7. It is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I am not saying it is going to happen, but we have got to aim for it.”