When Brentford lost Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa, several pundits thought their Championship title bid was over. £33 million is a massive sum, but it would take some savvy manoeuvring to replace a talisman such as Watkins who has proven Premier League quality.
Ivan Toney has put those opinions to bed. Brentford are top of the league thanks to the 23 goals he has smashed in, one of the most recent against fellow promotion chasers Reading away from home. As most fans would expect, this has put him on the radars of Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham, making him one of the most sought-after forwards in England.
Here are the reasons why the interest won’t end any time soon.
It’s easy to look at the number of goals Toney has scored and use them as evidence of intense interest. And you would be right because a fox-in-the-box is always welcomed by Premier League clubs. The fact that the 2020/21 EFL Championship odds now believe he is a dead cert to finish as the premier forward in the EFL at 1/5 is only more evidence.
However, Toney isn’t a one-trick pony, even if that trick is impressive. As well as the 23 goals he has notched, the Bees’ forward also leads the assists charts with 9. The next three contenders have eight and seven, but they have only managed 11 goals between them. There are only two men in double figures for goals who appear on the assist table - Lucas João (16 goals, 5 assists) and Dominic Solanke (10 goals, 4 assists) - highlighting how Toney is the complete offensive player.
How players react to adversity is now (rightfully) used by clubs to weed out the mentally strong from the weak. There is only so much that scouting reports can glean until they see the player in the flesh on the training ground or during a game. Still, the jury is by no means out regarding Toney’s mental toughness.
In 2014, a move to Wolves collapsed and he was picked up by Newcastle. Sadly, he only managed sporadic appearances, going out on loan to Barnsley, Shrewsbury, Scunthorpe, and Wigan. After being sold by Mike Ashley’s outfit, he signed for Peterborough and made his way up through the leagues. Today, Brentford are not only the favourites for promotion at 1/8, but also to win the league at 4/6 off the back of Ivan Toney’s hard work and skillset.
More clubs are willing to take a punt on Championship players due to the success of recent EFL graduates. The January transfer window saw the likes of Liverpool delving into the division to solve their defending crisis by snapping up Ben Davies from Preston North End.
Of course, this is only one example in a long list. Recently, goalkeeper Dean Henderson, striker Tammy Abraham and attacking midfielder James Maddison were all raised in England’s second division. They have gone on to bigger and better things, which is a sign for Arsenal and co that the set up in quality isn’t as big for Ivan Toney.
A mixture of attacking prowess, a strong mental attitude and a long list of previous graduates make this Bees’ striker a prime target for Premier League teams. Hopefully, he’ll get the chance to show what he’s made of next season, regardless.