When Nottingham Forest smashed their long-standing transfer record to sign Britt Assombalonga, many questioned the wisdom. After eight goals in just seven league games it’s looking like £5.5 million very well spent says Lee Clarke
It was a heady day back in August when five-and-a-half million pounds of Fawaz Al Hasawi’s riches were spent on one player. One who had not had a great deal of exposure to the Championship but had scored bags of goals lower down the leagues. Heads turned with an air of curiosity towards the City Ground. ‘A lot of money for someone unproven at second tier level’ they said. ‘Huge pressure to succeed and be value for money’ some commented.
If there was going to be one stumbling block to us signing the powerful frontman in the first instance it might’ve been Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony. After the George Boyd debacle few would’ve have blamed the Irish entrepreneur if he had put Forest firmly on the black list when it came to transfers.
But MacAnthony once again however proved his class and what he’s done in terms of player turnover at Peterborough is nothing short of admirable — there must be many a chairman in the Football League envious of the revenues generated by the London Road club.
Back to Assombalonga though and the 21-year-old netted his sixth, seventh and eighth goals for Nottingham Forest against Fulham on Wednesday night — and we’ve not even played two months of the season yet.
Many regulars at the City Ground have not seen a striker of this kid’s ilk since a certain Stan Collymore all those years ago. He has the confidence and swagger of a guy who has been scoring goals at the top level for years and, provided he stays fit, that is something he will go on to do for a long, long time — hopefully with Forest.
Whilst we sit pretty at the top of the Championship at the moment, if any club should know how quickly that can change it is certainly Stuart Pearce’s men.
Traditionally frantic starters, the Reds have been known to fade away towards the business end of the season. Supporters will now be hoping that with a 20-goal a season striker now on board, one we have so desperately craved, things will go a little more according to plan this time around.
So far we have seen him score headers, penalties, bundles over the line and who can forget the Collymore-esque finish against Derby a week ago? As good a goal as I have seen from a Forest frontman in years.
He will also take a tap-in. He told BBC Radio Nottingham the other night that tap-ins are his favourite sort of goal. Thinking about it for a moment, if I was a striker I think a simple tap-in would be my favourite as well – I think Simon Cox and Matt Derbyshire would have been happy to receive a few more tap-ins over the past two to three seasons.
The difference between Assombalonga and some of the other bang average strikers we have seen over the last few seasons is that he is capable of getting himself into those instinctive positions to be on hand to sweep a loose ball into the net. They often say a striker creates his own fortune and that statement is never truer than when discussing Assombalonga.
But he’s not just about goals — he’s proved particularly able as a lone frontman, holding up the ball, bringing his teammates into play and dragging defenders out of position. His power, skill and pace has tormented full-backs and centre-backs alike and, if he’s not scoring himself, his movement is creating opportunities for the likes of Michail Antonio and Henri Lansbury.
When many said we had overspent parting with the chunk of cash we did, who predicted eight goals in seven league games? Four with his right foot, two with his left and two with his head — all inside the area. Imagine if he continues to average a goal every 79 minutes.
And compare him to other the multi-million pound strikers in the Championship this season — Bournemouth’s £3m Callum Wilson (four goals), Blackburn’s £8m Jordan Rhodes (three), Norwich City’s £3m Lewis Grabban (five) and Fulham’s £11m Ross McCormack (two).
We have a real steal on our hands in Assombalonga and any fan of another Championship side who wants to say ‘it’s a lot of money for someone unproven at Championship level’ is clearly gutted that it wasn’t their chairmen who parted with the cash.
Indeed MacAnthony said himself: “Last year we took a massive chance and paid over seven figures for a young lad who had just turned 20 and had never kicked a ball outside of League Two football. I have no doubt lots of fans and people in the football world saw it as a crazy move…”
Nobody thinks it’s crazy anymore.