|25 goals - Assombalonga|
What a season it has been, so far, for Peterborough United’s Britt Assombalonga. The Congolese forward had a taste of Wembley glory on Sunday, scoring a late penalty to confirm victory for his side in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. He looks to be following in the footsteps of other goalscorers seen at London Road in recent years, such as Aaron McLean, Craig Mackail-Smith and Dwight Gayle. These three strikers have a lot in common. They were all brought in from the lower leagues, they were all of the hardworking and industrious ilk, but crucially, they were all sold on when they reached their peak.
Darragh MacAnthony is the type of chairman who believes in financial sustainability. Indeed, with attendances of less than 10,000 at the Cambridgeshire club, it is difficult to generate much spending power. This factor ultimately contributed to the sale of McLean, Mackail-Smith and Gayle – though in McLean’s case he handed in a transfer request.
Dwight Gayle had scored thirteen goals in twenty-eight games for Posh last season, having joined the side in November, initially on loan. This summer, Gayle signed for Premier League new boys Crystal Palace for a fee of at least £4.5 million. But over the last few years, Peterborough have developed a knack of finding a good replacement for the strikers they have sold. To replace their talisman once again, Peterborough picked up Britt Assombalonga from Watford, for a fee believed to be around £1.5 million.
Dwight Gayle has netted just three times this season for Crystal Palace. In the meantime, Britt Assombalonga has scored twenty-five goals in all competitions for Peterborough. Both are young strikers with time to develop, yet on a short-term basis, Peterborough found better value for money.
In his tenure at London Road thus far, Assombalonga has shown blistering pace, a powerful finish, and great strength for a relatively small player. However, if Darren Ferguson’s side do not get promoted this season, you wonder how long it will be before Assombalonga, too, is sold. Here’s a look at a few clubs who might be interested:
Adam Le Fondre is likely to leave the Royals this summer, and they would need a replacement. Nigel Adkins is a very good developer of talent, the kind of manager who likes to give less experienced players a chance in the first team. Assombalonga has the pace and clever movement to take advantage of any space in behind defences, so he is built to suit Reading’s counter-attacking style of play. However, the club’s ownership situation remains unclear, so the key would be whether Adkins will be given the funds to make the move happen.
Nottingham Forest will need to re-assess their striking options this summer. Recent signing Rafik Djebbour is having injury problems, Jamie Mackie has disappointed this season, while Marcus Tudgay, Dexter Blackstock and Matt Derbyshire are likely to be moved on. Owner Fawasz Al-Hawasi has not been afraid to splash the cash, having invested £10 million on players in the last year. Gianfranco Zola could be in the Forest hotseat this summer. He is an advocate of counter-attacking football, and worked briefly with Assombalonga at Watford. However, regardless of Forest’s manager, promotion to the Premier League will be the club’s short-term principle. They may not want to take a punt on a young striker, who is unproven above the third tier of English football.
Mick McCarthy likes 4-4-2, a formation which could play to Assombalonga’s strengths, for want of more attacking wingers at Ipswich. The board have not re-invested much into the side since the £8 million sale of Connor Wickham a few years ago, and with the most expensive season tickets in the Championship, you would think the funds will be available for Ipswich to compete for Assombalonga’s signature. However, Ipswich still have a number of strikers left in their squad. Much would depend on the future of fringe players, such as Franck Nouble and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Paul Taylor. Indeed, Taylor was one of Darren Ferguson's first signings in his second spell at Peterborough, before leaving for Ipswich. He has struggled to impress at Portman Road, so a swap deal could be on the cards.
Assombalonga would join a collection of young talent at Derby, and Steve McClaren may have some cash to spend, given the club’s big stadium sponsorship deal. The key issue is whether there will be a starting spot for the striker. Derby play with one advanced striker in Chris Martin, and two inside forwards. As a striker that operates centrally, Assombalonga may not be able to play week in, week out, but he would give Derby a different dimension. If they are in need of a goal towards the end, they might be able to bring him on in place of a midfielder, and assume a more direct style of play. Connor Sammon has only started three matches this season for the Rams, he rarely makes an impact as a substitute, and could be on his way out. However, Peterborough are likely to demand more than the £1.5M they paid for Assombalonga, and Derby may not be prepared to pay large fees for a squad player.
Top scorer Jordan Rhodes may leave Blackburn for a Premier League club this summer. If so, it is likely to be for a fee higher than the £8 million Blackburn initially paid for him, and that will give the club some money to spend. The Venky’s have been relatively quiet in recent months and have let Gary Bowyer, on a 12-month rolling contract at Ewood Park, build for the long-term. Bowyer is the kind of manager who favours working with younger players and could be inclined to move for Assombalonga, but if so, a deal will depend on how much the Venky’s will be prepared to invest.
Whoever comes in for Assombalonga this summer, Peterborough may dig their heels in and refuse to sell, which they would be entitled to do given the young striker’s four year contract. However, if the scenario is the same next January, in that Assombalonga is still scoring goals and Peterborough are a long way off the automatic promotion places, then he is likely to leave. A lot more Championship clubs at the higher end of the table will be prepared to pay an inflated fee, in an attempt to bring in a goalscorer that can make a difference.
There is no doubting that Assombalonga is one of the most talented forwards in the Football League, and it is only a matter of time before a bigger club comes calling.