THE NLFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR – JOHN AKINDE (BARNET)
IN THE summer of 2013, after being let go by Portsmouth, it’s no exaggeration to say that John Akinde was on soccer’s scrapheap.
A five-year journey around the bottom two divisions of the Football League had ground to a halt and the man who was once one of Non-League’s biggest hopes was back at the same level it all began, signing for Alfreton.
Same division anyway. Training once a week at most with his team-mates, but normally just travelling from his Kent home to Derbyshire on matchdays, the striker’s status was not even what it was at first club Ebbsfleet, who he helped to FA Trophy success before being sold to Bristol City in 2008.
Today, the Londoner stands proudly as a Vanarama Conference champion, the 30-goal golden boot winner and The NLFA Player of the Year.
He heads back into the League a gleaming, refurbished model compared to what ended up on that scrapheap, after a bit of tinkering under the bonnet from two wily managers.
Nicky Law gave Akinde game time at the Impact Arena in 2013-14, but arguably the most important of his 18 goals came from the penalty spot in a 3-3 draw with Grimsby – a game that newly-appointed Barnet manager Martin Allen was covering for BT Sport.
Asked whether Allen’s presence that day saved his professional career, Akinde told the audience at The NLP’s awards lunch on Wednesday: “That might be right. Martin spoke to me after the game, but I’ve got to thank Nicky as well for his part in getting me going.
“I needed to be playing regularly and he gave me that chance at Alfreton, which I’m grateful for. The same has been true this season with Martin.
“He was pushing me from the beginning of the season, telling me how important it was to be consistent in my game and consistent in my work ethic.
“I’ve been given the chance to perform by playing regularly, and I think I’ve done that.
“I’m very happy with the way I performed and to finally get the goals that maybe I haven’t done in the past.
“I would have been nothing without my team-mates though. They have helped me massively and without their service I wouldn’t have been able to score the amount of goals I have, so I’m really grateful for that.”
Akinde’s form, with 33 goals in all competitions including three hat-tricks, has understandably got on the radar of higher level clubs, with Nottingham Forest reportedly interested.
The striker has another year’s deal at the Hive, however, and wants to kick on in League Two under Allen – who just penned a new one-year rolling contract.
“I never set myself a goal target,” says Akinde. “I just go out there and score as many as I can. Hopefully I can get 30 again next season.
“I’ve done well in the Conference, so I’m looking forward to testing myself in the Football League. With the quality players around me I can keep getting chances and I should be able to get the same amount of goals.
“It’s a great achievement to win the player of the year, and I really do appreciate the fact that people voted for me.”