Brentford’s record-breaking new signing could be a huge hit - but Ivan Toney is tough to follow

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Brentford have just signed Igor Thiago for a club record fee - but will have succeed in taking over from Ivan Toney?

Ivan Toney may still be a Brentford player, but it seems as though Thomas Frank has moved on from him already. The Bees have just spent a reported £30m on Club Brugge’s Brazilian striker Igor Thiago, making him both the most expensive signing in Brentford’s history and the most lucrative sale in the history of Belgium. Which leaves one important question – will he actually be worth it?

His scoring record is promising. The 23-year-old, who was named the Europa Conference League’s young player of the 2023/24 season after scoring six goals in 10 matches, found the back of the net 16 times in 26 games in the Belgian Pro League last season after a similar scoring record in a short spell with perennial Bulgarian champions Ludogorets.

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There are some caveats, perhaps inevitably, not least in the fact that there is a big step between the Belgian top flight and the English, and it’s a gap that plenty of players have failed to bridge down the years. But his goalscoring record included a healthy number of spot-kicks – he scored six from seven for Brugge, tucking home the rebound the one time he missed. The final accounting saw him score 10 goals from open play from 11xG in 26 games. Solid, by any standards, but not overwhelming for a record signing.

Of course, there are plenty of other things that Thiago does extremely well. Firstly, he’s a highly effective physical presence up top who has a huge frame and who can easily knock defenders off the ball and get above them in the air – and he has good, shifty late movement which helps him get away from his markers to take full advantage of that. He lacks top-end pace, but does have a surprisingly strong burst of acceleration in his tree-trunk legs.

He also uses his physical traits to force turnovers high up the pitch, and will have caught Frank’s eye for his work rate in a high press as well as for his goal-scoring. He averaged around 1.5 combined successful tackles and interceptions per match last season in Belgium and while that may not sound like a towering figure, it’s high for a number nine.

Which, first and foremost, is what Thiago is – and it’s his goalscoring he will be judged on. There is a question mark over his first touch and about the deftness of his technique and defenders who do manage to get tight to him despite his strength and speed may find themselves able to tackle him a little too easily for Brentford fans’ liking (he succeeded with 40% of his dribbling attempts in the Pro League) but he has easy, well-timed finishing skills and most of his goals display well-weighted and directed finishing.

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In short, there is genuine quality in his feet, an impressive work rate, and excellent off-ball movement to go alongside his enormous physical presence. It’s possible that his indifferent close control will let him down at times in the Premier League, but he will likely win a lot of important battles and he has the ability to find space and the final touch – the most important one – to score goals at the top level.

Assuming Toney does leave, which still seems likely given that the England forward has just one year left on his contract at the Brentford Community Stadium, then they will need Thiago to figure out how to maximise the qualities he does have while minimising his weaknesses quickly – and he will have some very big shoes to fill indeed.

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