Before joining Peterborough United in the summer of 2018, Ivan Toney was the man without a home. That is what the club’s director of football, Barry Fry, says, at least.

It had been a difficult journey for Toney after breaking onto the scene at Northampton Town as a teenager. He was quickly snapped up by Newcastle United and it seemed as though all his dreams had come true at once. But it is an age old tale, a young player from the lower leagues slots into the minefield of a Premier League youth system and gets stuck in a sea of aimless loan spells, with little hope of progression.

What is billed as a staple of a player’s development can soon turn into a stagnant mess. Countless individuals have been lost in the system. For Newcastle, it was out out of sight, out of mind at a time when they were struggling at first team level. Ivan Toney, meanwhile, failed to assert himself with the likes of Scunthorpe United, Wigan Athletic and Barnsley

Peterborough offered something different, a drop down to League 1, when Toney was 22 but a sanctuary and a plan for how to get him to where he wanted to go.

“We’d seen him a lot as a teenager at Northampton and we quite fancied him then,” Fry told BBC Sport in May. “We continued to watch him at Scunthorpe and Wigan and still liked him, but when we made an enquiry, Newcastle only wanted to loan him. I did a deal with them eventually for £300,000 and he came with his parents and his agent.

“I said to him: ‘We’ve watched you for years but you’ve never had a home’. If you look at what we do with our centre forwards, we had Britt Assombalonga, who we sold to Nottingham Forest for £8m, Dwight Gayle, who we sold to Crystal Palace for £7.5m, Jack Marriott, who we sold to Derby for £5m, Conor Washington went to Queens Park Rangers and Craig Mackail-Smith went to Brighton.

“I told him: ‘We’ll put you in the shop window. There are always plenty of scouts, and we’ll love you’.

“In the two years we had him, he was incredible; he scored 49 goals in 94 games and was probably the best signing of the lot.”

By the time Ivan Toney moved to Brentford last summer, he was a different player. Fry’s shop window plan had worked a treat and he opted for another place where development was key, having seen what had happened to Ollie Watkins after his breakout season with the Bees before moving to Aston Villa. Continuing to play regular first team football was his priority but interest from Fulham, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Celtic was ample evidence of his growing reputation.

Nobody could have foreseen what would happen next, though. Toney didn’t just handle the step up to the Championship well, he took his new league by storm. Getting back to the Premier League was always his aim, and by Christmas it seemed like he’d have a choice to make rather soon if he couldn’t inspire Brentford to the top flight himself.

On December 22, Brentford welcomed Toney’s former club Newcastle in a League Cup quarter final. Thomas Frank, their manager, rested players ahead of a busy period in their promotion push, including Toney but his team still progressed. In a way, that was the ultimate point proven; his name was etched into the narrative before kick off but he wasn’t even needed to end Newcastle’s hopes.

He finished the season as top scorer in the Championship but, not only that, his 31 goals was the highest total for a single season, surpassing Glenn Murray’s 30 with Crystal Palace eight years previously. To top things off, Brentford beat Swansea in the playoff final at Wembley.

Now Ivan Toney is back where he always wanted to be but more armed for success than he ever was before. At 25, he is hitting the right age, experienced and refined, getting the most out of his power, but with greater technical attributes added to his game. His calmness in front of goal, particularly with his penalty stance which takes a lot of nerve, shows he is ready for the challenge.

Whether it be Danny Ings in 2014 at Burnley, Teemu Pukki at Norwich City in 2019 (who are back in 2021, too), or even Gayle at Newcastle, history tells us that a top striker at Championship level doesn’t always translate into success at Premier League level. In two of those cases, Ings and Pukki, their goals offered a fighting chance to a sinking ship, while Newcastle had enough without Gayle being able to make the step up consistently.

Ivan Toney and Brentford seem like the perfect match. Old cliches over promoted sides’ style of play are repeatedly being proven outdated; Brentford will create chances for Toney to finish, and with their novelty and usual early-season shock factor, both have to be fancied to get off to a good start.

But if you think Toney’s stay at the top table will be fleeting, you may be disappointed. English football has made a rise through the leagues fashionable; his story has been stop-start and unorthodox in places, but he is here to stay. This is what happens when they boy who came good at Peterborough feels at home.Toney

 


 

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