Charlton AthleticSport

Charlton’s Louie Watson on making life ‘a misery’ for Wayne Rooney and family support helping him and brother Noah – on Palace’s books – achieve football dream


Stepping up to first-team level can be a daunting experience – especially if you are being told to make life uncomfortable for one of England’s most iconic footballers.

That was the scenario for Charlton Athletic loanee Louie Watson when he was on Derby County’s books and instructed to target Wayne Rooney.

Rooney, back in English football after being appointed Birmingham City manager, handed Croydon-born Watson his senior debut while in charge of the Rams.

And the former West Ham United youngster, who was also offered a deal by Watford after leaving the east Londoners, can vividly recall his initial encounter with Rooney, who scored 53 goals in 120 matches for England.

“It was an international break and I had been called over for my first session with the Derby first team,” Watson told the South London Press. “I was doing so well, I thought I could get a chance.

“We were doing 11 v 11 and Rooney was still a player. Having him in the session, it was exciting. He is one of the best players ever to play in English football, if not the best. It was an eye-opener.

“Phillip Cocu was the manager then and he was very good to me. He said: ‘In today’s game, I want you to make his life a misery and make it hard for him’.

“I said: ‘No problem gaffer’. But I’m looking at him [Rooney] and I’m thinking: ‘You want me to make Rooney’s life a misery? I’ll give it my best shot’.

“I had a great session. One memory I have is that the other team had a throw-in near the corner flag and I was thinking: ‘I can’t let him out. I’m not going to let him get the ball’.

“I was tight to him. All of a sudden, they threw it into him, and he just put his arm out to keep me away and half-volleyed a switch. I don’t know how he had done it. I’m thinking: ‘It’s just another level.’

“After the session, Rooney came up to me and said how well I did. It was a nice introduction. He got the job a week later and he was impressed with how I was training. Being up against him, he got to see me first hand.

“As soon as he got the job, I was in the first-team permanently. I made my debut at Christmas time. My family couldn’t be there, but I came home and they had bought me a bottle of champagne and put it in an elf boot!

“It was amazing playing under him. I loved every minute of it. I don’t have a bad word to say about him. It was refreshing to have someone who had that technical ability – someone who played at the top level in every shape and form – give you pointers on your game.

“He was so good to me. We spoke all the time and he would pull me in for chats. He gave me my professional debut off the bench and from the start.

“If Rooney is telling you to pull out wide or do something when you have the ball, you’re not really going to say no. He’s been there and done it and been the best at it. It was a special couple of years working under him.”

Football is a family affair for the Watson family. His brother Noah, 20, is a defender on Crystal Palace’s books. Dad Stephen was also with the Eagles as a youngster before spells with AFC Wimbledon, Stevenage, Farnborough and Aldershot.

Watson is also quick to credit the tactical nous of mum Theresa.

“We call her Pep Guardiola – she knows her stuff,” he said. “She has been taking us to games for years and has done all the mileage.

“Speaking for me, Noah and even our older brother, who is not into football, we’re so thankful for them. They have done so much for us growing up. It’s only right that you thank them as well.

“Dad used to take us to the park and make us do hill runs or little drills. At the time, you’re thinking: ‘You’re being a bit harsh on us here’ but you look back and I’m so grateful for what he did for us.

“There is a two-year age gap between me and Noah – it’s easy to bounce off each other.

“He took the defensive side because of me.

“We played against each other over the years and he would be defending and I would be attacking – he naturally swung that way.

“I don’t like saying this to him, and he might end up reading this, but as a player he has got a lot of qualities that are going to take him a long way.

“He has all the attributes you could want – he ticks all the boxes. It’s just down to him to put it all together and to take that next step, which is first-team football.

“He’s more than capable of doing it. I know he will shine when he gets to that stage. Coming up from the academy to the first team is all about mentality, at the end of the day, and he has got it. It’s just about proving it now.”

Watson played for Junior Elite, the same club which helped produce Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Djed Spence.

“About 80 per cent of the players from my team went on to play for academies,” he said. “We won pretty much everything. We did the treble and then dispersed. I went to Fulham, Arsenal and West Ham. The one that stuck out to me was West Ham – it was a family feel and I felt comfortable there.

“You need a platform to really express yourself, and West Ham was a team that gave me that. I spent eight years there and until I joined Charlton I had been living away from home since I was 13.

“I was living in Romford in digs when I was at West Ham.”

Watson made the decision in 2020 to join Derby and boost his progression.

“I wanted a club where I could play U23 football at a good standard but ultimately get into the first team,” he said.

“Derby were in the play-offs pretty much every year at that time. Cocu had played at a top level with Barcelona, so it was a dream for me.

“In my first game against Chelsea’s U23s I came on and got a goal and assist within five minutes. Three months later, I made my debut for Derby.”

Watson, now back living with his folks in West Wickham, joined Luton for an undisclosed fee in July 2022 and featured nine times, five in the Championship, as they won the play-offs to reach the Premier League.

The former England U15 international, capped by the Republic of Ireland at U18 and U21 level, made a season-long loan switch to Charlton on September 1.

Watson said: “I’m a local lad and live about 20 minutes away so this really suited me – especially with the club being as big as it is and with the aspirations of the staff and the players.

“Coming off the back of a promotion, I wanted to find somewhere that I could bed myself in, really kick on and make a name for myself.

“I’ve had that feeling of winning promotion and I really want to have that again and this time playing week in, week out. This club is more than capable of doing that and it’s shown that over the last eight games.

“We’re really, really kicking on. We just have to climb the table and get into the play-offs or, who knows, the automatics.

“We’ll take one game at a time and see where we end up but everyone’s goal is to get into those spots.”

Charlton are 14th in the table and  have at least one game in hand of nine of the clubs above them.

The gap to the play-offs is five points.

Head coach Michael Appleton is unbeaten in the league since replacing Dean Holden and will look to extend that sequence to six matches by seeing off Reading in SE7 tomorrow.

Watson saw first hand how Luton gained momentum as the 2022-23 campaign progressed.

“Football is crazy,” he said. “I experienced a lot last year. We struggled for the first six to eight games. We were picking up points but not really wins and then it took a turn, like it has here.

“With every club and every situation, you’re going to have good and bad spells but it’s just about keeping level-headed and knowing what you need to do to get into that spot.

“I feel as though we have steadied the ship and now it’s about sailing into the play-offs.

“We know we’re more than capable of doing it, but it’s just about less talk and more action – getting the job done.”

Watson scored the first goal of his career in Charlton’s 4-2 EFL Trophy win over Aston Villa U21s last week in front of a sparse crowd of 1,276.

“When I get one in front of a full stadium it will be a special moment,” he said.

“I did blow a kiss to my mum anyway, because I said I would get her a goal soon. She’s been waiting a while. I dedicated the goal to her as well.”


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