The £12m ex-Arsenal transfer gamble Crystal Palace and Fulham must stay well clear of

A former Arsenal starlet has been linked with a move back to England - but can the former England star cut it in the Premier League?
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A new article from TeamTalk makes the claim that both Fulham and Crystal Palace are exploring the possibility of a deal for Ajax striker Chuba Akpom, whose 28 goals for Middlesbrough last season made him the Championship’s leading scorer. Given that both sides badly need a consistent threat up front, it may seem like a sensible move to look at – but would it be the right move, and was Akpom’s form a flash in the pan?

The 28-year-old striker began his career at Arsenal but never broke into the first-team and spent most of his time out on one of six separate loan spells, with his best return coming in Belgium when he scored six goals in 16 games for Sint-Truiden. Having failed to impress enough to remain at the Emirates, he headed off to Greece with PAOK before returning to England with Boro – but goals never came with regularity until last year, when he flourished under Michael Carrick.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His startling form at the Riverside Stadium persuaded Ajax to fork out for a deal worth up to €14.3m (£12.4m), but things got off to a distinctly rocky start – Akpom failed to find the net until November as his new team floundered their way towards the Eredivise relegation zone. Matters have improved since, at least – he’s scored five goals in his last four league games to propel Ajax towards mid-table safety.

Based on that newfound form, it’s not even clear whether Ajax would be keen to sell him on again so quickly – but a rebuild is evidently required and they have only a handful of other assets worth substantial money, so their arms could likely be twisted by the prospect of turning a profit should a Premier League side make a move. The only question is whether they really should.

Akpom was, unquestionably, brilliant last year. He found a level of confidence in front of goal which had eluded him for much of his prior career and his physicality and excellent off-the-ball movement made him a nightmare for most second-tier defences – but is there enough evidence that he can deliver that level of performance again, and at a higher level?

The best case scenario for a club like Fulham or Crystal Palace is that he’s a late bloomer who simply took a couple of months to get to grips with life in Amsterdam. The worst is that last season was a one-off, a blend of high confidence and a coach in Carrick who gave him the tools he needed to flourish.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s notable that he wasn’t playing as a traditional number nine under Carrick – the role Fulham and Palace would both need him to fill. Instead he played a deeper-lying role behind Cameron Archer, making late runs into the box and picking the ball up in areas where he could elude markers more easily. For much of the rest of his career, he has acted as a lone striker, and before these last few matches at Ajax, he has never really been able to make the most of his talents.

He also has a relatively limited skill set. His finishing is excellent, and his movement is both smart and backed up by serious speed, but he isn’t a technically outstanding player and his ball-carrying skills and passing range are not exceptional, nor is he particularly strong in the air. In the Championship, he eventually found a way to make the most of what he had, but playing in the Premier League may require more.

There are plenty of forwards who have scored goals for fun in the second tier but struggled to convert that into excellence in the top flight – and, come to that, there is a pretty long history of players who seemed spectacular in the Eredivisie but couldn’t cut it another step up the ladder.

This isn’t to write Akpom off, because he has already proven a great many wrong at Boro and has enough quality and enough resolve to shut people up again elsewhere, but to note that he is treading a path that many have failed to reach the end of. Fulham and Palace need a striker but would need to be sure that they could base their attacking scheme around Akpom’s qualities, and play in a way that negates his relative weaknesses.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That’s a lot to ask, and there are other number nines on the market who would require less building around and who appear, based on their record over a number of years, to be less of a risk – a striker like Serhiou Guirassy, for instance, who has also been linked with several Premier League clubs, can point to a much deeper body of work than Akpom can at this point in his career.

Perhaps Akpom is a genuine late-flowering forward who will continue to score goals in the Netherlands and everywhere else he goes. It’s hard to root against him, and it would wonderful to see a player prove himself over the course of years – but for Premier League clubs who are short of goals and can ill-afford to swing and miss on their next striker, Akpom looks like a pretty big gamble. Let’s see if someone rolls the dice, because Akpom came up with a double-six just last year and it’s far from impossible that he’ll do it again.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.