Ivan Toney may be at the heart of a very modern footballing phenomenon, the war of tweets where the offense is imagined and hostilities waged via smartphone, but there is an old-fashioned element to his progression. He is set to become the first Brentford player to represent England for 83 years, since World War II interrupted Les Smith’s brief international career, and his CV has a certain appeal.
Some are accelerated to the top. Like many players of a previous generation, Toney took the indirect route. As he noted, he was part of Gareth Southgate’s senior team without ever representing his country at a lower level; indeed, Jamaica became interested in him before England. While only Erling Haaland, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Harry Kane have scored more Premier League goals this season, the 26-year-old has made fewer appearances in the top flight than in the Championship. He did even more in League 2 but played the most in League 1. He was a serial loanee, lining up for Barnsley and Wigan, Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe, but a permanent transfer was when he felt furthest behind. to achieve its ambitions.
He had made two top-flight appearances for Newcastle in 2015-16, spending just 10 minutes on the pitch. And that could have been the sum total of his Premier League experience when they sold him in 2018. “Leaving Newcastle when I went to Peterborough was an eye opener,” he recalled. Especially since he started on the bench, overtaking Jason Cummings and Matt Godden. “Other strikers were in front of me scoring goals,” he said. “It was about being patient and when your chance comes you have to grab it with both hands.”
Which he certainly has. “I feel like you have to keep working hard and that makes it even more enjoyable when you get the chance,” Toney said. The road to England was paved with goals: 101 in just over four years for Peterborough first then Brentford. Expertise from 12 yards helps: He scored 24 of 25 shots on goal, leading Thomas Frank to call him the best penalty taker in the world. Diplomatically, Toney argued that Kane was better because he took more pressure penalties.
He came to savor his journey. There was a temptation to “sulk” about loans, but the experience paid off. He is able to look back on his three years in the books at St James’ Park with understanding. “If I was a Newcastle owner or manager looking at a 20-year-old Ivan Toney, would I have taken him? Probably not,” he said. “There are no hard feelings. They felt that I was not good enough.
If he is now, it is partly thanks to the advice of his mother, Lisa. “She sends me a message before every game: ‘Be a beast on the pitch. Put your body around you.’ Toney’s rise is a family affair in other ways. His older sister, Jasmine, was a university student who took her baby brother to training and worked in the car waiting for him to finish. Her mum sometimes went without dinner so Ivan could have his. Brentford is a family club and Toney’s recognition in mirrors many others. “That makes it that much more special,” he said. “We know that no one has been called up from Brentford for over 70 years.”
Southgate, however, let Frank deliver the good news; when Toney saw the Dane’s number flashing, he thought he was ringing for other reasons. “I was a little late, so I thought he was calling me about my timing,” he explained. “Then he said, ‘I have the privilege of saying that you have been called up to the England senior team.’ For once in my life, I had nothing to say.
He showed a level of self-awareness. Toney admits he can talk too much to the referees. His openness extends to ruminating on playing for bigger clubs. Would he be as prolific as the striking superstars if he was on the same kind of team? “Until I’m here, who knows?” he said. “I hope that one day I will be in their place and have the opportunity to score goals like Haaland and [Gabriel] Jesus.”
The Brazilian scored as Arsenal beat Brentford 3-0 on Sunday. When the Bees won their inaugural Premier League game at the expense of the Gunners last year, Toney tweeted: ‘Good kick lads. It seemed somewhat excessive when Mikel Arteta used it to motivate Arsenal for last season’s rematch. Gabriel Magalhaes then produced an intentionally similar tweet this weekend. “I think once was funny, the second time a bit gritty,” Toney said. “But I bit my tongue: I wanted to answer, I wanted to nibble.” It wasn’t the kind of problem Les Smith had ever encountered.