This week Swindon Town chairman Lee Power has announced that the Robins will not be forced into selling striker Jonathan Obika, despite the 25-year-old’s intentions to leave next summer. It was announced back in May that Obika would not be signing a contract extension, with the view to leaving the County Ground upon the expiry of his current deal, upon the conclusion of the 2016/17 season.
Having only recently lost last season’s top scorer, Nicky Ajose, to League One rivals Charlton Athletic, the Swindon hierarchy are understandably keen to keep hold of Obika. With a limited squad as it is, the club would be left in real trouble should the former Tottenham youngster also depart during the current window. As such, the Swindon chairman’s recent comments will have gone at least some way to quashing fan’s most recent concerns.
Responding to BBC Wiltshire, when asked about Obika’s future, the Town chairman made the club’s position on the matter abundantly clear: It’s unfortunate John doesn’t want to sign a new deal – that doesn’t make him a criminal. He has got to look after his family. We wont be selling any more – up front anyway. John is going to play a pivotal part this year – we’ve got high hopes for John.”
There will, of course, be calls from a select number of fans to cash in on the player now – with the club to be holding out for a fee of £500,000 for the 25-year-old – rather than let him leave on a free transfer in 12 months’ time. However, as it stands, Swindon’s strike force amounts to the 25-year-old and Jermaine Hylton. Being left with only the latter, who has scored just one league goal in 29 appearances, is hardly an encouraging prospect.
Currently, the club’s demands are proving enough to deter Obika’s potential suitors and should he remain at the County Ground ahead of next season, it would be a huge boost for Town’s prospects, at least in the short term. While his goal scoring efforts from his time at Swindon (22 in 72 appearances) aren’t quite as impressive as the likes of Ajose (35 in 61 appearances), he brings an edge to the club’s attack that few forwards at this level are able to replicate.
Throughout last season, amidst Ajose’s heroics, Obika played more of a support role, providing the linkage between midfield and his prolific strike partner. While he rarely received the credit when it all came together for Town in the final third, his involvement in the build-up to many – although at times they were few and far between – a positive Swindon attacking move should not be understated.
On the few occasions he has been deployed in a lone role, he has looked the part, and so he should. In reality, he is the ideal target man: strong, tall and very capable when it comes to holding up the ball. However, his finishing ultimately lets him down. He doesn’t quite boast the same physical presence, but in many respects, his strengths and weaknesses are comparable to those of Everton’s Romelu Lukaku.
Following a string of impressive performances during the campaign just gone, the 25-year-old received huge praise from Luke Williams, when the young Swindon manager suggested he could play at the ‘top level’. Williams made these comments after an emphatic 4-2 victory over Southend, in which both he and Ajose found the back of the net on two occasions to overturn a 2-0 deficit.
“I think Jon is a fantastic player,” Williams told the local press during his post-match interview. “I still don’t think you’ve seen the best of him. We’ve seen it. The staff are fortunate, we see it a lot in training and I think that Jon will benefit a lot from a run of games in the side. I struggle to find something that he hasn’t got that could take him to the top level.”
Town fans will certainly hope that his notion rings true. After all, at times in his Swindon career he has looked very much the part. Last summer, for example, he adopted the role of protagonist in the club’s front-line during a friendly against Premier League outfit Liverpool. Despite defeat for the hosts at the County Ground, Obika proved an imposing figure, capping a promising performance with a brilliantly struck second-half goal.
His solo effort against Sheffield United, in the home leg of the play-off semi-final, will also live long with Town fans. After picking the ball up on the right flank, he cut inside, beating his man with skill, before rolling the ball past a helpless Mark Howard and into the bottom left-hand corner. In fact, this is one of the best goals I have witnessed at the County Ground in recent times, and one that ultimately proved pivotal in the club’s progression to Wembley.
Williams continued to praise the English striker, following his display against Southend: “Look at the two goals. Jon scores one delicate finish with the outside of his foot, perfectly timed spinning away into the corner, then the second one is like the Didier Drogba where everyone is bouncing off him, skill and the calmness of the finish.”
Unfortunately for Obika, the Drogba-esque moments do not happen often enough. Unlike the former Ivory Coast international, or even Ajose last season, he is not the clinical player that supporters will hope him to be, and ultimately he is guilty of squandering more chances than he puts away – as his displays from the previous campaign served to prove.
With a string of first-team games, in a starring forward role, Obika is a player capable of better things, there is no doubt. With a decent run of first-team games, as the leading front-man, he is certainly capable of scoring more than 15 goals in a season. However, Power shouldn’t be confident in placing all of his faith in the Englishman ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Although Obika is a good option for Town, attacking reinforcements remain a necessity for the club. The loss of Ajose’s ability to hit the back of the net at the first time of asking will be sorely missed at the County Ground, and without the arrival of a player competent in sharing the goal-scoring burden, the club could be in real trouble come the end of next season.