In the summer of 2016, Slaven Bilic looked to make improvements to his West Ham United first-team squad as the Hammers looked to press on after an impressive 2015-16 campaign.
One of the players that the Hammers boss decided to bring in was Norwegian international Havard Nordtveit.
West Ham beat off competition from several other clubs to snap up the utility man from German side Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer, following the expiry of his contract with the Bundesliga club.
The Norwegian has now spoken to The Boot Room exclusively about his time at West Ham, the Olympic Stadium and the Hammers’ fans.
It would be fair to say that Nordtveit’s season with West Ham may not have gone to plan. He played just 21 times for the club in 2016-17 and never quite achieved the form he had showcased in the Bundesliga with Gladbach.
But, despite his struggles, he insisted he was happy with his time at West Ham:
“It was perfect,” beamed the Norwegian. “I always dreamt to be in the Premier League. When I got the chance to go to England with West Ham it was an easy choice.
“Slaven (Bilic) was quite open that he wanted me. I had some good games and I had some bad games and it was a bit up and down. But all over I am really happy I took that choice. West Ham is a fantastic club.”
Nordtveit simply never seemed to settle at West Ham. The Norwegian was perhaps a victim of his own versatility. With injury problems at right-back for Bilic the utility man was asked to play as a makeshift option on occasions for the Hammers:
“There (at West Ham) I played a little right-back. Slaven said he needed me because we had a lot of injuries. When the manager asked me, of course I tried my best.”
His inexperience in the position showed and it was tough for the Norwegian international, but he knuckled down and did a job for the club in a desperate situation.
In general, last season was a struggle for West Ham. An 11th place finish perhaps sugarcoated a mixed campaign in which they finished just five points ahead of Watford in 17th.
It was the first season West Ham played at the Olympic Stadium, leaving their beloved Boleyn Ground.
It has been a constant source of controversy since, with many West Ham fans unhappy with their new home.
Nordtveit never had the pleasure of playing at Upton Park. However, the importance of the old ground was never lost on the new recruit:
“I never played at Upton Park but what I heard was that the atmosphere there was amazing. What I got to know is that the fans were not that happy to change the stadium after such a long time and being such a traditional club.”
The move has certainly seen West Ham’s management of David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady receive some hefty criticism since.
In March, it boiled over during a defeat to Burnley, when fans invaded the pitch and many hurled abuse and projectiles at the director box.
However, Nordtveit understands why the move went ahead:
“Everything is up to the chiefs at the club and they have a great deal on the Olympic Stadium, I am sure they only want the best for the club. So I think it is hard to say no to that.”
Speaking from Hoffenheim, where he is now back playing in the Bundesliga, the 27-year-old continued:
“I hope West Ham can get the same feeling at the Olympic Stadium as they did at Upton Park.”
The former West Ham man clearly enjoyed his time in London, even if his Premier League dream did not come true with the Hammers.
What is clear is that he understood the frustrations of the West Ham fans in what was an odd and difficult transition season in 2016-17.
For Nordtveit, that may have also been part of the problem regarding his ability to settle at the club.
Now, back in Germany, his career is still on the right track and he appears humbled by the experience of playing for such a traditional club.
The defender, who came through the youth ranks of Arsenal, is now playing regularly in Germany for Hoffenheim, who are chasing the Europa League places in the Bundesliga.
After previous success in Germany with Nurnberg and Gladbach, it seems that German football is what suits the Norwegian international best.
When it comes to a potential return to England, one day, it seems the West Ham experience was the end of his Premier League career:
“After it all, we made the conclusion that I fit better to the Bundesliga than I do the Premier League,” admitted the 27-year-old.
“I have now been in Germany for seven years, maybe more than that. I like it here. I like the stadiums, the atmosphere in the games, the way of play.
“How we’re playing now it is real entertainment.
“I can see in front of me that I spend my last years as a professional football player here in Germany before I go home and put my legs high up on the table.”
But it is not a dig at West Ham, more a reflection on his troubled season with the club.
“I always watch them (West Ham),” Nordtveit admitted. “I hope they can take some points now and get out the danger of going down.”
He will never go down as a West Ham great, but Nordtveit truly appreciated the chance to play for West Ham in his career.
No Hammers fans would begrudge him any success in the future, which looks set to be in Germany until he hangs up his boots.
Exclusive: Cardiff City’s Joe Bennett discusses his new contract; promotion and new signings
The full-back spoke exclusively to The Boot Room as he looks ahead to the Bluebird’s top flight return.
Joe Bennett has been on the books of six clubs since breaking into professional football, but he has found his home in the Welsh capital with Cardiff City.
The 28-year-old left-back played a key role in the Bluebirds’ surprise promotion and he is now relishing the opportunity of proving himself in the Premier League.
Earlier this month, Cardiff extended Bennett’s contract until the summer of 2021 as a reward for his contribution.
During the 2017/18 season, he made 41 appearances for the club and Neil Warnock has made sure that his left-back remained in Wales for their second ever season in the Premier League.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, the 28-year-old spoke about his delight at receiving a new contract.
“It’s been really good ever since I’ve come to Cardiff. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think it was nice to get everything sorted out before the season and I was really happy to sign, as all the fans have been good to me.
“We had a really good last season. It all got sorted out really quickly. We’d only been speaking for a couple of weeks and then I signed. I’m really happy to have signed and now I can concentrate on having a good season“
Few people expected Cardiff to achieve promotion and their doubters remained until the very last kick of the season.
Although they had been in the top two places for the majority of the campaign, Championship rivals Fulham were hot on their tails and were regarded as the team that neutrals wanted to see take the second automatic promotion spot.
However, the Bluebirds clung on to second position and won a promotion that was very well-earned over the course of the campaign.
They may not have been the most exciting team to watch, but they reached the 90-point mark and won 27 matches. Their work rate, organisation and team spirit made them a difficult team to beat.
“Nobody expected us to go up, definitely not in the top two anyway. Our aim based on the previous season was probably to get into the play-offs. Anything other than that was a bonus really. We were in the top three or four for most of the season.
“It ended up being a really good season and one that not many people expected. I think we can be really proud of what we achieved and hopefully we can do the same this season as well.”
The Championship is often lauded as one of the most competitive leagues in the world and Cardiff’s promotion will give hope to a lot of the teams in the division that they can reach the Premier League.
Their success was based on the managerial abilities of Neil Warnock, who achieved yet another promotion in a storied career.
The Cardiff team lacked star names, but they were built into a formidable unit that was greater than the sum of its parts.
The system allowed players to perform and Bennett is a great example of that. He finished the season as one of the best full-backs in the second tier, both in a defensive and attacking role.
The 28-year-old contributed a goal and four assists in the attacking half, while he regularly caused problems when he was given license to roam forward.
He was quick to praise the manager behind his and Cardiff’s excellent season.
“He knows what types of players that he wants and he keeps a lot of the things the same throughout the season. To be fair, it works as he’s had eight promotions, which is a record.
“He’s just a really good manager and he gets the players going. You wouldn’t expect a player to play like they do, but he gets the best out of his players and I think that is what makes him so good.”
The praise of Warnock’s man-management skills won’t come as a surprise, but it is interesting when Bennett goes into more depth about his own development under the veteran manager.
Throughout his career, the left-back has performed well for the likes of Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, but he has taken another step at Cardiff.
“I came to a club as a left wing-back. I was a more attacking option when I first joined. Ever since he has come in, we have played a lot of games as a flat back four. He’s just improved my game.
“Defensively, I know what he wants me to do. There are times when he doesn’t want any risks at the back. That definitely improved my game and I think last season was one of my best seasons as a footballer. A lot of that is down to him and the team as well.”
Cardiff didn’t play free-flowing attacking football for the majority of the season; therefore, Bennett was required to play a more disciplined role. Warnock provided him with the knowledge required to thrive in the system, as shown by his average of 3.2 ball recoveries and 3.4 clearances per game. He was regularly making key defensive contributions, while maintaining an attacking threat.
Although the team impressed and showed consistency throughout the campaign, the promotion wasn’t as comfortable as they would have hoped. Fulham surged up the Championship table during the second half of the season and had a chance of gazumping Cardiff on the final day. The Welsh side only needed to win, but they were held at home by Reading.
Luckily for the Bluebirds, Fulham were unable to get the victory that they needed to finish in second position. They were beaten comfortably by Birmingham City. The final day could have gone better for Neil Warnock’s team, but they got what they wanted. Bennett admitted that he had an idea that results were going their way, despite their own struggles.
“I had an inkling just from the way the fans reacted to the first goal. Then they were singing that Fulham were losing, but it can all change very quickly in a game.
“We went out there and wanted to beat Reading, then let the other stuff take care of itself. If we won, we were going up. It worked out well. When they went 2-0 up, we could enjoy the day a little bit more as it wasn’t as tense as we thought it might be.”
The results meant that Cardiff achieved an unlikely promotion and a number of players would be entering the Premier League for their first time. Unlike several of his team-mates, Bennett does have top-flight experience. He featured in the division with both Middlesbrough and Aston Villa.
For the latter, he played over 30 times in the Premier League, but he failed to make a lasting impression. Since moving to Cardiff, he has improved considerably and he admits that he goes into the 2018/19 campaign with a point to prove.
“A little bit of a point to prove. Obviously, I didn’t play that many games and most of them were for Villa. I didn’t have the best of times at Villa, but I know that I developed as a player and I got better.
“I think that I’ve grown with age and definitely improved. I think we can go into the new season and nobody expects anything from the team. We can go into it with no pressure and enjoy it. I’m sure that we can surprise a few people.”
As signified by his new contract, the club are staying loyal to the left-back after his performances during the promotion-winning campaign. It could have been very different as Fulham showed an interest in him last summer. On that occasion, the 28-year-old demonstrated his loyalty, chosing to remain with the Bluebirds.
“I just wanted to show a bit of loyalty. I ended up speaking to my agent and I spoke to the manager as well. I told him that I wanted to stay and I thought that we were going in the right direction. We were winning a lot of games at the time. It was nice to stay and that loyalty has paid off as we got promoted.”
The summer has been a positive one for Cardiff. They have made a number of additions to strengthen the squad.
Neil Warnock hasn’t changed his strategy, containing to target hard working and talented players from the lower divisions to strengthen his squad, with Josh Murphy, Bobby Reid, Alex Smithies and Greg Cunningham all joining.
It could be seen as unambitious recruitment with Cardiff choosing to plan for the long-term and bring players in that will be prepared to stay if they are relegated. However, all four will be hungry to prove themselves in the top-flight and they will immediately fit in with the rest of the squad.
Bennett affirmed that the signings have been positively received by the squad.
“They have been really good signings. We played against them last season and they look good in training. I think the manager has gone down the young and hungry route, which is good. Players that have not played too much Premier League football before, but they did really well last season. They just want a chance and I’m sure that they will get that this season.”
The addition of Greg Cunningham is an interesting one as he will be providing competition to Bennett at left-back. While speaking to The Boot Room, the former Aston Villa full-back spoke positively about the signing and believes it will give him the impetus to step up his game.
“You are going to have that at every club, someone that wants to play in your spot. It is important to have that competition. It is healthy and it only improves you as a player.
“Greg can play in a couple of positions, so maybe we can play in the same team. I’m not too sure what the manager wants to do. It is only going to make be better and want to do better as well.”
The positive environment created this summer around the England team means that there will be an even greater desire for players to impress in the Premier League and break into that squad.
Bennett has previously played for the Under-21 team, but he admits the senior team is likely out of his reach with his focus being on Cardiff City.
“I don’t think that’s in my sights at the minute. The England team are doing really well at the minute and have a lot of young players, but I think that’s a little bit out of my reach at the minute. I’m concentrating on having a good season for Cardiff and the team is a young team.”
“There are a lot of young English players that want to show what they can do in the Premier League. Hopefully we can have a good season.”
Cardiff start the season as the favourites to get relegated, but the squad won’t be bothered by that. They weren’t fancied to do well in the Championship last season, yet they managed to get promoted and reach the Premier League above several teams with larger budgets.
Warnock has built a team in his image and they won’t be an easy team to play against, despite their perceived deficit in talent.
The players in the Bluebirds’ squad make up for that with their work rate and determination. Bennett is a great example of that.
He struggled to make an impact in the Premier League previously, but he learned from the experience and continued to develop in the Football League.
The 28-year-old will return as a much better player and with a point to prove. That bodes well for Cardiff City.
Exclusive: Lucy Bronze discusses Lyon move; Lionesses and Champions League triumph
The Boot Room caught up with the Champions League winning full-back.
At the age of 26, Lucy Bronze has already enjoyed a hugely impressive career, both domestically and internationally.
It would have been tough to leave her home country, but opportunities such as this one doesn’t arrive often and the full-back grabbed it.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, she discussed the reasons behind that very move.
“To play in the best team in Europe, with the best players in the world, in the hope they could help me improve as a player. Of course, I wanted to win the Champions League too, but I really wanted to challenge myself to improve as a player.”
Although the women’s game in England is improving due to the performances of the national team and the implementation of the Women’s Super League, there are better opportunities to be taken abroad.
Toni Duggan has moved to Barcelona, Eni Aluko has joined Juventus while Jodie Taylor and Rachel Daly both play in the United States.
It is still rare for players from the national team to move abroad, but Bronze and the players listed above have set an exciting precedent.
Lyon have established themselves as one of the leading clubs in Women’s football and were very keen to sign Bronze from Manchester City.
In the statement that announced her signing, they described the 26-year-old as ‘without doubt, the best full-back in the world’. This is high praise and underlines how highly she is thought of across Europe.
“I think I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none. But my physicality and mentality are probably what give me an edge because I’d run through a brick wall to win.”
Bronze is humble when discussing that comment and her strengths as a full-back, but a player doesn’t get to the position that she is in without having natural talent.
Her winning mentality and reading of the game give her an advantage, but she is also effective in both halves of the pitch, as shown by her goal record.
She isn’t a clinical scorer, but she contributes in the final third and that provides an extra dimension to a team that she is playing in.
Throughout the interview, her modesty and humility shine through. Despite her success as a player, Bronze keeps her feet on the ground and acknowledges the role of others in her career.
During her time in England, she won the PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year on two occasions, while she has recently become the first English player to be named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year.
“Of course, it’s nice to get recognition, especially as a defender it’s always a lot harder. I’m just very fortunate to get to play with so many great players around me who make me look good.”
Her decision to leave England to join Lyon wasn’t a huge surprise as it wasn’t the first example of Bronze leaving the country for career development reasons.
The England international spent some time at the University of North Carolina and she became the first British player to win the NCAA Cup. It was a short period, but an important one for her career.
“Although my stay was short, I learnt a lot.
“I played with so many American players who went on to win World Cups and Olympics, and they all had a crazy mentality that I’d never seen before and I was at an age when I was like a sponge taking everything in.”
Over the course of her time as a professional, Bronze’s desire to learn and better herself is a clear trend. As mentioned above, there are some that consider her as the best full-back in the world and there is genuine reason to believe that is the case.
There have been a number of people that have played a role in the 26-year-old’s career and development as a player.
However, one person stands out above the rest as a key influence on the right-back and that is former Arsenal defender Alex Scott, Bronze’s predecessor in the England set-up.
“I think there are loads of people I could mention, my family especially. But when I think about my England career and getting in at right back, surprisingly enough it was actually Alex Scott, who at the time was my rival for the right back spot at England.
“She’s the one teammate that helped support me become the player and person I am today.
“She always pushed me to do more, always had my back, wanted the best for me and still does now, but I don’t know any of player who would support their direct competition the way Alex did for me.
“It’s something I will always be grateful for.”
It wouldn’t have been easy for Bronze to step up and replace Scott in the England team, but the advice and guidance from the player she was replacing will certainly have made the transition simpler.
As her career continues, she will be hoping to contribute as much to the national side as Scott who made 140 appearances for the Lionesses.
The team on the pitch have made huge strides recently as they attempt to challenge for major honours and emerge as one of the best sides in the world. They came so close to a World Cup final in 2015 and they will be wanting to go even further at the next tournament.
Bronze has played a key role in the growth of the team both on and off the pitch. She believes the Lionesses have a bright future ahead of them.
“I think we have developed such a good squad, we have so many great players.
“We don’t have any superstars who we have to rely on to win us a game, everyone plays their part.
“Every year we have improved as individuals and as a team, and have so many more good young players coming through all the time.”
Although the appointment of Phil Neville was not well received, the Lionesses performed well in the She Believes Cup and made it to the final before losing to the USA due to an own goal.
The team proved that they could challenge the very best teams in the world and Bronze believes that the gap is closing between the USA and England.
“I’d like to think so, I don’t think we are there yet, we aren’t quite ready to be the best in the world but it’s something we are working towards and something I think we all believe we can reach.”
They still have a year before the World Cup is due to take place. It is being held in France and the location could prove to be an advantage for England as they will be so close to home. For Bronze, she plays her football in the country and that should put her in a good position to excel.
England are yet to qualify for the tournament as they trail Wales by one point, albeit the Lionesses have a game in hand.
Bronze and her team-mates won’t be getting carried away, but they have looked a very good team in qualifying. They have scored 20 times in six matches, while they have only conceded once.
There is a real hope within the nation that England can triumph next summer and the 26-year-old believes that it is important that the current generation win an international trophy together.
“It’s so important, we have come so close now in the past two tournaments where making the final is a must.
“We have a lot of players who will be hitting their prime come the World Cup, a lot of players who know what it takes to win trophies.
“Hopefully it all comes together at the right time. But for now, the focus is still on qualifying.”
The last year has been an excellent one for Bronze personally. She has not only earned a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world, but she then helped Lyon retain the Champions League.
It would have been a difficult decision to leave Manchester City, but it was one that paid off.
The right-back came up against her former club in the semi-finals of the competition and scored the decisive goal in the tie. She admits that it was strange to go up against her former employers.
“The first game was a very strange game for me, playing in Manchester, surrounded by English people and the pressure I put on myself to say I wanted to win the Champions League with Lyon.
“But the second game at home in Lyon was just like any other game for me, where I enjoyed every minute of it and scoring to get us to the final was like the cherry on top.”
The very best players step up when they are required and they a rarely intimidated by difficult occasions.
Bronze showed that she could thrive despite playing against her former team and was the match-winner on the day.
She may not be an attacking player, but she is capable of producing those moments like and that is one of the reasons why Lyon wanted to sign her.
Bronze has already achieved a lot at the age of 26 and is now establishing herself as one of the best players in the world. She has a big future and will be one of the most important players in England’s search for an international tournament triumph.
There have been many good moments, but the England international states that winning the Champions League and scoring a World Cup goal are two of her favourite moments.
“Winning the Champions League was huge for me, but I was disappointed in how I played in the final. So that’s something I have to put right next year.
“Still, scoring the winning goal in the World Cup against Norway is something that’ll always bring back the best memories for me, simply because I just didn’t think I was capable of scoring a goal like that ever.
“Since then I’ve seemed to have made a habit of scoring one off goals in big games.”
Lyon labelled her as the best full-back in the world and there is a genuine case to be made that she is. She has had a great career to date and there will be more standout moments in her future.
The World Cup next year is already shaping up to be a great tournament and England will be contenders if they get there.
In Bronze, England have a great player with a winning mentality and that could be important for Neville’s Lionesses.
It won’t be easy, but this is the best generation of footballers that England have had in years and it would be incredible for them to mark it with a major trophy win.
There are other great players in the squad, but Bronze could be the pick of the bunch.
Exclusive: Adebayo Akinfenwa – Wycombe Wanderers, growth of eSports and League One future
Few players outside of the Premier League command the type of attention and admiration as ‘The Beast’.
Adebayo Akinfenwa’s reputation has surged during recent years thanks to the FIFA video game series. He has been ranked as one of the strongest players in the game and earned the nickname ‘The Beast’ as a result of that.
Throughout his career, he has been successful in the lower leagues and this season saw the striker win another promotion, this time with Wycombe Wanderers.
However, it is gaming that has taken him global. In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, the 36-year-old was keen to make that point when asked about FIFA’s impact:
“Massive, massive, massive, I’d be lying if I said that I could, sat here, say 5-6 years ago saying how my life could’ve gone. The FIFA series, the game community is a world within the world we live in, it’s a community.
It has taken me internationally without even going to these places, of course moments happen, playing Liverpool on tv and I scored and it’s a domino effect. But with how big FIFA is globally there are places I’m known that I’ve never set foot in.
It’s been mindboggling, it’s humbling the way FIFA in itself has changed my world.”
It speaks volumes about the outreach of the gaming community that it has had such a huge impact on Akinfenwa’s career. There are some overlaps between the gaming and football community, but it is the former that has increased the striker’s profile.
A number of prominent YouTubers brought attention to his in-game character and how effective he could be, despite being a lower league footballer.
It is interesting that he notes the domino effect that it has had on the pitch, as opposition teams will be more aware of him and it is likely that clubs have signed him due to his reputation. However, it is his off-the-field activities that have increased due to EA’s popular gaming franchise.
“I mean I interviewed The Rock 4 weeks ago, it’s opened up so many doors. For me I’d say that to get involved with it, at first, you’re going along with it then you realize the doors opening up and the realms it’s taking my life to. It’s mindboggling, it’s opened up so many doors.”
Akinfenwa has been humbled by the way he has been taken in by the gaming community and he has been keen to give something back. Professional gaming is on the way up as an industry and eSports are starting to evolve across the board.
There are no limits to how far it can grow and the influence of people like the 36-year-old can be huge in aiding that. When asked about eSports, the Wycombe striker spoke positively about the industry:
“I think it will be the future, I think that you take gaming which has been around forever, and you take a competitive element and you fuse them together, it can only get bigger and you see it.
“It’s funny because when I was younger my parents were like “get off the computer and get outside” and now parents are like “get on the computer”. It’s the way society is moving and fusing two loves, a competitive edge and gaming. It can only get bigger.”
There will be many within football that fear eSports as genuine competition to the sport. Children may choose to follow in the footsteps of their favourite YouTubers and professional gamers, rather than looking as football as a career path.
The fact that the FIFA eClub World Cup was shown on Sky Sports underlines how gaming has moved into mainstream channels. Meanwhile, Hashtag United has tried to combine football with gaming and are moving into non-league competition in the 2018/19 campaigning.
Football as an industry will see the rise of eSports as a threat, but they should take Akinfenwa’s stance and embrace it. He sees many parallels between the two industries and they should be able to co-exist and thrive.
“I think there’s a comparison to anything professional really or with the desire you want to put in, even if you’re not professional but say you want to get bigger and you’re going to the gym every day, you need the dedication and to put the hard work into it.
“Just because they put the word professional in it – the difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional didn’t quit and that’s the only difference.
“With the whole Gfinty Elite series, I’m talking to these gamers, and they prepare like I prepare for a game. They’re not half-stepping and just waking up and switching on the computer, playing and hoping, no, they’re honing their skills and training every day, they’ve got their formation that they tweak and change every day, it’s a direct comparison.
“If you want to be the best you can be you’ve got to put in the time nobody can wake up and be the best and that’s the same with these players in these competitive leagues they put in the work. That’s what I’ve noticed the most, their determination and work ethic, it’s the same as a professional footballer.”
The mentality of football and eSports are very similar. Akinfenwa has clearly taken that away from his time spent being involved in both. Those that compete at FIFA professionally have to put the time in and work hard, just like footballers going to training every day. Above, the Wycombe striker refers to the Gfinity eSports Elite Series, which he is directly involved in.
When asked about the competition, Akinfenwa spoke about the quality and how he managed to become a part of it.
“The elite series is the best of the best, they’re not half stepping. The players have managers and with FIFA anyway it’s literally like a last man standing, a team of four, PS4 and Xbox, you pick your best players and you go through a tournament process to the final and the winner is the winner.
“The good thing is you find out about the different players like Gorilla, the best in the world, and there are different teams and players trying to navigate through the series and win in the end.
“Initially, I got approached and knew one of the production managers from my time at EA and he said “well, look we want to do this and think you’ll be a great fit”. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to doing more next season.
“I’ve teamed up with Lauren and I felt the chemistry was there, the good thing about it is that I didn’t know much about Gfinity or eSports, I mean I knew, but not much about it.
“It’s let me dive into their world, see how seriously you need to take it and have dedication. I went along this year as a novice and now I know much more and I’m looking forward to next season.”
Despite being 36, Akinfenwa isn’t looking to end his playing career anytime soon. That said, he will have one eye on what he can do once he does hang up his boots. If eSports continues to grow, there is no reason why he can’t become more involved and become an ambassador for many more projects like this one.
Wycombe are the focus of his attention for now after he was rewarded for his form with a new contract earlier this season. He will remain at Adams Park for the 2018/19 campaign, which will see him given another chance to make an impact in League One. The powerful striker believes that the Choirboys are ready to push on at a higher level.
“Yeah, outside the Wycombe team, the fans, the board, we weren’t favourites to go up but in-house we aspired to that and wanted to achieve and it’s the same.
“When you get promoted, consolidating and staying up is the key. I think most managers and players will say that first and foremost is hitting the benchmark that you’re not going to get relegated. As soon as you can hit that benchmark you can kick on. We’ll try and hit our goals as early as possible and kick on from there.”
Akinfenwa hasn’t played in the third tier since the 2013/14 season, in which he played 34 times for Gillingham. It was a solid if unspectacular season as he contributed ten goals and five assists. A similar return would go a long way to seeing Wycombe establish themselves in League One.
Over the course of the last year, it can be argued that Akinfenwa has matured and found a consistency that has been absent previously. During the promotion-winning season, the striker contributed 17 goals and 14 assists, which is a remarkable impact.
“I rate it up there as one of my best seasons, I believe that I needed the players around me to help me get my numbers. As long as I enjoy the game and I feel fit I’ll go out there and I know what I can do and what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at and I stay away from that.
“This season, as a club and a team we concentrated on what I was good at and therefore got the numbers both for goals this season and minutes played.
“It’s always nice to get acknowledged for the work you’re putting in but for me I’m glad we got promoted. Individual accolades are good, and I won’t knock that.
“When you retire you can look back on it, but collective accolades mean ten times more so for what I was nominated for and being in the team of the year; if we didn’t get promoted, personally it would’ve counted for nothing. It was nice for it all to culminate into a promotion and then get the accolades.
“For me, people would argue it should be my best season to date in my football career – It’s hard to argue because my stats say that. For me I’m enjoying it, numbers and stats take care of themselves. As long as I’m enjoying it I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
It is refreshing to hear Akinfenwa talk about the importance of team achievements over individual awards. Through the exposure supplied by the FIFA series, the attacker has got a lot of recognition as an individual, but he hasn’t let that affect his on-pitch performances.
He remains an excellent lower league striker and that is why he is rarely without a club for long. Last season, Wycombe benefitted from his goals, but it was his unselfish hold-up play that made him indispensable to the team, as underlined by his assist tally.
The 36-year-old will know that it will be tough to replicate those figures in League One, but if he can continue to deliver consistent performances, he will continue to offer something to the team. The growth of eSports is certainly proving to be exciting off the pitch, but Akinfenwa doesn’t plan to stop playing in the immediate future.
“Mentally I’m as good as I’ve ever been, and I feel fit I’m playing more minutes than I’ve ever played especially over these two seasons. But I think growth plays a massive part in the experience, I know what I’m good at and when you’re younger you’re trying to find what you’re good at.
“I’ll always say as soon as you can find out what you’re about, the better you will be – that’s what, especially in the last three years, I’ve found out what I’m good at.
“I’m not trying to do step overs and beat 4 players and I’m okay with the player I am. Some people will be for me and some will be against me but ultimately, I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’m about. As long as I stay fit and as long as I’m enjoying it, putting my body through this, I’ll keep playing football.”
League One defenders will be worried to hear that. Despite getting towards the end of his career, Akinfenwa remains as dangerous as he ever has been thanks to his power and physical frame.
He has the ability to dominate any defender in that division and, over the last couple of seasons, he has added intelligence to his game. The striker knows his own limitations and that has helped him get the best out of his ability.
It will be interesting to see how he and Gillingham fare next season. They have a bright, young coach in Gareth Ainsworth and they have a team that appears to enjoy playing together. Akinfenwa has played a huge role in that and few would back against him making an impact again during the 2018/19 season.
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