EXCLUSIVE: Chuba Akpom’s life in football has been nothing short of a rollercoaster, admitting he once ‘didn’t know where he would be playing or living’… but he is now reaping the rewards of his ‘hard work’ and faith of Boro boss Michael Carrick
- Chuba Akpom is reaping the rewards of his hard work after a rollercoaster career
- He was once banished from the Middlesbrough first team by Chris Wilder
- But Micheal Carrick has played him in a deeper role and he smashing in goals
There are a number of places you can start the story of Chuba Akpom’s rollercoaster life in football.
Perhaps it was when he joined the famed Hale End academy at Arsenal at the age of six, signed a professional contract at 17 and was name-checked by Arsene Wenger as one of the Gunners’ brightest young stars.
Or maybe the woe of six loans around the country in search of first-team football, four of those short-term moves ending with the striker returning to north London having not scored a single goal.
Or how he took a plunge to switch gritty Football League spells for the searing Greek heat of Thessaloniki with PAOK, going invincible on the way to a league and cup double.
But probably the best place to start is last summer, when he was banished by Chris Wilder to Middlesbrough’s Under-23s side and crashed on the sofa of team-mate Uche Ikpeazu.
Chuba Akpom admits he once ‘didn’t know where he was going to be playing or living’
The forward has had a rollercoaster career but is now reaping the rewards of his hard work
Akpom also claimed he once had to crash on the sofa of his teammate Uche Ikpeazu (pictured)
‘I didn’t know where I was going to be playing or living,’ he says. ‘I kept my head down with Uche and worked hard so I was ready for whatever happened next. I had my bags packed.’
The two pals have had contrasting fortunes since. Ikpeazu, also a striker, is yet to score at Turkish side Konyaspor, while Akpom got a surprising recall to the Boro first-team on the eve of the season due to a couple of injuries. He has not looked back since, with 28 league goals this season.
‘There’s been many times when I’ve wanted to quit,’ he tells Mail Sport. ‘When things have been going wrong on loans or not getting in teams, I could have taken my foot off the gas.
‘But I continued to work hard and I could see light at the end of the tunnel and I knew things would work out well for me.
‘My biggest strength is my mentality. I never once doubted myself — work hard and it’ll work out.’
And how it worked out. Akpom romped home to the Championship top scorer prize — 38 per cent of his total career haul in one season — and was voted the division’s player of the season. The striker thanks one person above all for his resurgence: Michael Carrick.
The former Manchester United midfield general came in with Boro 21st in the table but quickly helped them up the division, winning 15 of his first 20 matches. ‘Michael is the manager I’ve been dreaming of my whole career,’ he says.
Carrick saw Akpom was more than just an out-and-out striker and dropped him into a deeper role, with Cameron Archer or Matt Crooks often leading the line.
He was also once banished to the U23’s by former Middlesbrough coach Chris Wilder
But the Arsenal academy graduate has worked his way to the top of the game in recent years
He also thanked his current coach Michael Carrick for playing him in a deeper position
He has now become the Championship’s Golden Boot winner scoring 28 goals this season
‘Carrick spoke to me straight away,’ he says. ‘In his second session, he put me in that new role. I’m so grateful he did that — it’s got the best out of me.
‘Michael is a top man. The gaffer is so humble… he would say he’s had nothing to do with my form, but I want to tell people he has been key. I can’t praise him enough for what he’s done for my career.’
Carrick is one of a line of former Manchester United coaches performing in the EFL this season, with Kieran McKenna winning promotion at Ipswich and Neil Wood guiding Salford into the play-offs. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told The Athletic: ‘I am 100 per cent sure that Michael will be the manager of United if he wants to be.’
Fine praise, but he has a job to do elsewhere first, starting with a trip to Coventry today.
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