In my opinion, Benik Afobe is the best striker in the second tier of English football. The Guardian newspaper seems to agree, describing the young, English forward as ‘powerful and pacey’, whilst going on to describe him as ‘the next big thing’.
And, having signed for Arsenal’s academy side at the age of six, Afobe’s playing style can be compared to the great Thierry Henry, who was arguably the country’s best striker during Afobe’s time at the North London club. At his best, Henry showed lightning pace, incredible skill and provided a fearsome goal threat, characteristics Afobe seems to be able to match, having been one of the deadliest strikers in English football over the past year.
Before making his debut for Arsenal’s reserve side at the age of 16, Afobe scored 40 goals for the Under-16 side in the 2007-08 season and went on to score 21 goals in 29 games for the Under-18’s. Plus, the striker has scored 23 goals in 38 games for England’s youth teams, right up to the Under-21 side. He was rewarded with his first professional contract in 2010, having reportedly being linked with Barcelona.
However, Afobe never played for Arsenal in the top flight during his time at the club. Instead, he found himself playing for Huddersfield, Reading, Bolton, Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons during various loan spells. Interestingly, Kenny Jackett was instrumental in signing Afobe for his former club, Millwall.
At the beginning of last season, Afobe was on loan at MK Dons, where he first began to become a supreme goalscorer. Along with Jamie Vardy, he became one of only two players to score two goals past the imperious David De Gea last season, in a triumphant 4-0 victory against Manchester United. This was the first time Afobe had announced himself on the national stage, in front of the Sky cameras, and his good form continued.
He scored 19 goals in 30 games for the Stadium:MK side, and rapidly gained the interest of Championship clubs. Luckily, it was Wolves who secured his signature, for a fee rumoured to be around £2 million. He was given the illustrious number 12 shirt, which had previously been worn by Danny Graham and Yannick Sagbo.
Afobe scored on his debut after coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 win over Blackpool, and he went on to score 13 goals in 21 games in the second half of the season, firing Wolves back into promotion contention. Whilst scoring all types of goals, including a tremendous solo effort against Nottingham Forest and a wonderful glancing header against Reading, Afobe formed a tremendous understanding with Nouha Dicko and Bakary Sako. All three demonstrated supreme pace, power and skill to bring Wolves back up the table following a disappointing end to 2014. It was during Dicko’s spell on the sidelines due to injury and the absence of Afobe that Wolves struggled for goals leading up to Christmas.
Ultimately, Wolves missed out on the play-offs by goal difference, but from a personal point of view it was still a superb season for Afobe. In total, he scored 32 goals in 51 appearances, making him joint top goalscorer in English football alongside the mercurial Harry Kane. His incredible form led to being selected in England’s squad for the UEFA European Under-21 Championships.
And, as the season began on Saturday, Afobe picked up from where he left off in a Wolves shirt, after latching on to a Dave Edwards header to score a half volley with the outside of his foot against Blackburn. Last night, Afobe was made captain of the squad in the game against Newport County, and he made it two goals in two games, not only scoring the penalty in a calm manner, but showing enough pace and trickery to win the spot-kick in the first place.
So in my opinion, I think it is fair to say that Benik Afobe has all of the attributes needed to become one of the best strikers in English football – it is easy to forget that he is only 22 years old, and that he will only improve. And after being given the number 10 shirt following Bakary Sako’s departure, I truly believe that even if the club don’t make it into the top tier of English football soon, Afobe will do.