DESERTION TO DEMAND: THE INCREDIBLE RISE OF NEWCASTLE OUTCAST IVAN TONEY
Far too often players all over the country seemingly slip through the cracks into the caverns of obscurity after being let go by Premier League clubs.
The Premier League dream - an illusive utopia for budding young footballers - is often sold without a direction or strategy, and many plunge from the summit of English football with their prior confidence in a state of tatters.
To truly understand and appreciate the detrimental ramifications this can inflict, you have to delve into the psychological elements of the sport - the part of it that people tend to overlook far too often.
Unfortunately, it leads to a myriad of players simply falling out of love with the game as the rigorous, dog-eat-dog nature of the top flight encompasses as many obstructive, odious impacts as it does positive.
So, as can be conceptualised, very few bounce back from the disheartening dejection that can sometimes be precipitated. But Ivan Toney is a shining beacon of resilience and pertinacity.
Cast your mind back to Thursday 9th August, 2018. Does it incite any particular memories? Maybe not for you, but for those connected to the Newcastle United aristocracy, it is a day that will be tarnished with rampaging regret.
It was the day that the Magpies decided to cash in on Ivan Toney.
At the time, offloading the gangly forward did not look to be bookmarked with disarray, or even a second thought of reconsideration. After making the move from boyhood club Northampton Town three years prior, Toney had firmly failed to make the grade at St James’ Park.
Only three appearances would occur during his crepuscular days in the North East of England, and instead of illuminating his talent with the big boys, a catalogue of loan spells across the lower remits of the football league were the norm.
Throughout the peripheral period, temporary tenures in the third tier with Barnsley, Shrewsbury, Wigan and Scunthorpe all formed a perhaps unglamourous part of Toney’s crusade.
Although identical 12-goal hauls in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons ignited a relative flame of optimism, it was not enough to inspire the notion that the fleeting Englishman could go on to play Premier League football. But oh, how wrong they were.
In contrast to the Magpies, Peterborough United genuinely envisioned a scope of unearthed potential and panache within the ex-Northampton poacher as they allured his services to London Road on a long-term deal.
And history evidently provides an informative outlet that Peterborough is a fruitful proving ground for equipped centre forwards. Before his buoyant boutade, the likes of Dwight Gayle, Jack Marriott and Britt Assombalonga had all cemented their worth with Posh, signalling that it was the right avenue for Toney’s development to blossom.
It was indeed.
Toney wasted little time in transitioning to life in Cambridgeshire, finding the back of the net sixteen times along with laying on five assists across his inauguration campaign - however, it was simply a sign of what was to come.
The following season, Toney etched an intangible caldera of success in League One as he struck gold on 24 occasions, all the while signifying his ability to link-up with teammates with several assists. Therefore, little surprise emerged when teams from higher up came calling.
Practically every supporter throughout the widths and lengths of the Championship possessed an itching desire for Toney to engrave his signature on their club’s contract papers at some stage over the summer, though for Brentford fans, that paradisiacal wish would come to fruition.
Showcasing their transparent philosophy of developing talent below the summit of English Football, Brentford eventually succeeded in pursuing Toney’s services, forking out a £5M fee for the striker with a further £5M in add ons. By some, it was viewed as a precarious gamble.
A potential eight figure fee on a player untested and unproven above the third division raised eyebrows aplenty, but now, people are wondering how Toney only chalked up that fee, which looks meagre given his scintillating showings in West London.
From Saïd Benrahma to Ollie Watkins to Neal Maupay, Brentford certainly possess a first-rate foresight when it comes to identifying profitable quality - and Toney is indifferent. The Bees now look set to triple their profit on the ex-Newcastle forward should he leave the Capital in the summer.
This year, Toney has betrayed typicality on all fronts. Despite ascending the footballing pyramid, the Northampton native is embracing new heights of success and has swiftly burgeoned into one of the division’s finest individuals. It is strange, and it is not seen often. Footballers usually take a while to adapt and get to grips a higher level, though Toney has transitioned with ease and elegance.
Perhaps even, Toney could sculpt a waymark of a philosophy Championship clubs need to adopt more often.
On some occasions, there is undoubtedly a reluctance - or at least, a pushing pessimism when recruiting operators from the lower leagues. Buying into that development-revolving ideology has paved a success story for a variety of clubs, but it does need to carry more trust than it does currently.
Hopefully, Toney’s unprecedented prosperity will give Championship sides some food for thought when scanning the British market.
Players like Ivan Toney truly captivate audiences. Not only is Toney a cultured, almost effortless goalscorer with the ability to finish from all angles and ranges, he carries that multidimensional sync to combine with teammates, using his strength and will to open up space and hold the ball up before feeding off onto translating runners.
And, as we all know, football is an evolving enigma. Gone is the need for simply a striker who can score goals. With the physical, psychological and unified demand for an all-round game, it is easy to comprehend why the Toney hype train is roaring down the tracks, injecting captivation upon every viewer.
The word phenomenon offers a conundrum, for I feel it is frustratingly overused in the divisive bellies of fanfare. Though it would be a difficult task not to attribute that gratifying use of vocabulary towards Toney, who has an astounding 37 goal involvements to his name.
It would be foolish not to anticipate that figure rising, too. With 28 goals and a further 9 assists, still with eight games to play, Toney looks well on his way to surpassing Glenn Murray’s 30 goal haul for Crystal Palace in the 2012-13 campaign.
Surely, the feeling is evoked by now that as well as offering a warchest of wonder, Toney also possesses a fitting psychological edge. In fact, a particular weight of pressure clamped down upon his shoulders due to the monumental reality that he was replacing future England International, Ollie Watkins.
Responsibility and pressure is not something you can evade in the intensifying climate of modern day football. It often proves to be the deal breaker. The ‘good’ players, the players you will tell your children about, the players that grab your attention: they are the ones who use it as an extra motivator, or even relish in it.
The ones who stagnate, deteriorate and fail to live up to the potential so often turn out to be inept at conquering pressure.
It is as clear as crystal what category Toney falls into, seamlessly replacing - and, many would argue, bettering the £30M Watkins.
So therefore, it ferments a degree of irony that the aforementioned fee is now being circulated for the adaptive attacker. Given the waning of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Premier League juggernaut Arsenal have been strongly linked with Toney, whereas West Ham and Leeds are also reportedly looking to add him to their ranks.
Why would they be abject to doing so?
At 25, Toney is far from the finished article. Less than a year ago, he was lining up against third-tier opposition, which truly spotlights how rapidly he can progress and many would yet stake a claim that he is yet to enter his prime - which is an honestly terrifying thought.
You see some strikers and they are far from multifaceted. Be it an emphasized reliance on speed or strength, that parochial onus can wear off as a result of injuries, age or more athletically-ept opponents. We see it time and time again.
But with Toney, that will not be the case owing to his yielding skill set, which ticks all the boxes for a present day player of his role.
Whilst Brentford supporters are basking in the delirious delight of observing Toney’s all-encircling auditions, Newcastle fans are steeped in stifling frustration due to their difficulties at rippling the net.
Sure, Callum Wilson is an equipped goalscorer - after all, there is a reason why he has won caps for his country and beholds a renowned reputation at the highest level.
When Wilson is actually gracing in the pitch, he enforces an infectious impact and has accounted for 15 goal involvements in 21 matches
However, it is felt that he is too risky to solely depend on, with his ravaging injury woes of the past resurfacing at St James’ Park.
Therefore, scarce shock emanates from the fact that Newcastle’s slump has coincided with Wilson’s time on the sidelines, where he has been since the beginning of February owing to a hamstring injury. They have not tasted victory since his latest knock back against Southampton.
In his aggrieving absence, nobody has been able to man the goalscoring reigns. Dwight Gayle, who is evidently not fancied by Steve Bruce, has only scored once all season, whereas £50M acquisition Joelinton sits on the same tally. Also, forgotten forward Andy Carroll has a solitary goal to his name. Did anyone forget that he is back at Newcastle?
Without a doubt, Toney’s expertise would present the remedy to Newcastle’s ill fortunes in front of goal. I, for one, believe that the proficient poacher would thrive at the peak of English football; everywhere Toney has been, he has taken to life like a duck to water and the top flight is merely his next destined step.
Clearly, he is a cut above Championship level and a host of Premier League suitors will surely have him pencilled at the top of their shopping lists at the end of the season.
He fully warrants that, and he embodies what perseverance can really get you in the game. It is a mistake that Newcastle will never live down.