Ivan Toney interview: Brentford don’t want to be a nearly team or a could’ve been team

Malik Ouzia
·4-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

After a week when some of the capital’s proudest footballing institutions were tarnished by accusations of greed and self-interest, the kind of land-grab Ivan Toney is proposing is a little more light-hearted.

“If I had a pound for every time I heard Ollie Watkins’ name I could buy half of London!” he laughs.

Signed by Brentford for an initial £5million last summer as a direct replacement for the club’s Aston Villa-bound top scorer, the comparisons were inevitable.

Watkins had himself carried a similar burden after the previous season’s leading scorer, Neal Maupay, was sold to Brighton, and did so in fine style, matching the Frenchman’s 25-league-goal haul.

“Ollie's a great player, he's gone on to bigger and better things and he's doing his thing in the Premier League,” Toney says of Watkins, who scored on his England debut last month.

London Football Awards
London Football Awards

“So, there was a bit on my shoulders to keep up the goalscoring form that the strikers have achieved over the past couple of years. But I'm the kind of person who thrives on that.”

And then some. Toney’s 29-goal tally so far has taken him not only beyond each of the men who came before him, but also within one of the Championship’s all-time single-season record, earning him the EFL Player of The Year gong at Tuesday's London Football Awards. The last two names on the honour roll go without saying: messers Maupay and Watkins.

In Thomas Frank, a man whose playing career as a midfielder never took him beyond the amateur ranks, Brentford have a manager who seems to churn out lethal centre-forwards the way Downing Street churns out leaks.

Toney began his Bees career with a four-game mini-goal-drought, but Frank and his staff quickly got their club-record signing firing, to the tune of seven goals in his next four.

“He coaches really well, tells you where you need to be and just believe that the ball's going to come there,” Toney says of the Dane.

“When I first came here I was trying too hard. He pulled me aside and said don't try too hard, play your game and the goals will come.

“Now my stats speak for themselves so I can't thank him enough.”

Off the field, Toney’s impact has been vital from the outset, too.

Turning up at Jersey Road last summer, he walked into a dressing room that had, only weeks earlier, suffered the trauma of an extra-time Play-Off Final defeat at Wembley and knew it would soon be shorn of its two best players in Watkins and Said Benrahma, who eventually joined West Ham.

The Englishman was carrying his own disappointments, having been part of the Peterborough United side that was demoted out of a play-off spot on points-per-game when Covid curtailed the League One season.

Still, he recognised the need to rejuvenate a group facing a uniquely tight turnaround to the start of the new campaign.

“It was important for all of us to put it behind us and I feel like with how I am as a person I can do that and want to change things quickly, rather than dwelling on what could've been,” he says.

“I think that's key because we don't want to feel what we did before, we don't want to be a nearly team or a could've been, that kind of team.”

It has been quite the debut campaign for a player who, even at 25, sees the current phase of his career as a “second chance”, after the 2015 move from Northampton Town to Newcastle United which had promised a short-cut to the top failed to work out.

“I was lucky enough to change my career path from how it was panning out,” he reflects. “At 18, I jumped to the Premier League from League Two which looks good on paper but it's about the journey and the stepping stones.

“Even when I first went to Peterborough [in 2018] it was a case of: When is that chance going to come?

Getty Images
Getty Images

“But when I got my chance I took it. My season started in December and from then until the end of the season I got 19 or 20 goals. From there I've just never looked back.”

As with both Maupay and Watkins at this stage of their respective standout seasons, there is a consensus that the next step will be into the top flight, with or without Brentford.

But having so far made light work of surpassing his predecessors, Toney will only be satisfied if he ends the season having broken yet more new ground.

“I'm hungrier than ever,” he adds. “I want to be the man to take Brentford into the Premier League, but it's not just myself, it's going to be the other players playing a massive part as well. I'm ready for the challenge.”

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Brentford ‘deserve pat on the back’ after Ivan Toney joins Ollie Watkins and Neal Maupay in 25-goal club

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