TORONTO, Canada—As quickly as he burst onto the scene in a Reds uniform, Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola could be on his way out just as fast.
That’s because multiple reports this offseason have linked the young striker with a move away from BMO Field.
It started two weeks ago when a report from Transfermarkt cited multiple sources confirming that Akinola is on the radar of Turkish side Trabzonspor, with the TFC poacher being “one of several strikers” that the club is interested in.
Then, earlier today, a report from Twitter (@EPL_Hub) stated that multiple Championship sides in England, including Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City, are after the 21-year-old.
The credibility of the latter is questionable, especially considering that the transfer deadline in England passes in a few hours. But Transfermarkt’s earlier report linking him to Turkey does cite multiple sources, so perhaps where there’s smoke...
Akinola also decided to skip out on Canada camp this month after picking up a reported injury. No doubt he likely picked up a “knock”, but is it possible that he’s playing the same cards as Jozy Altidore?
Here’s another significant tidbit: Toronto FC recently exercised their 2021 contract option on Akinola, but he will apparently be a free agent after next season. With that in mind, technically, Akinola would be able to leave TFC on a free transfer next January if they are unable to come to terms on a new contract with their homegrown star.
That’s huge, and considering his emergence last season—Transfermarkt now has him valued at $5.5 million USD up from the $440,000 they had him listed at a year ago—if he is indeed a free agent in 12 months, having him walk on a free would be worst-case scenario for the Reds.
You’d also have to imagine that European interest would likely peak Akinola’s attention as well, especially when you consider other moves that young homegrown MLS stars have made this offseason, like 17 year old Caden Clark to RB Leipzig, 20 year old Brendan Aaronson to RB Salzburg, or just recently, 19 year old Brian Reynolds to AS Roma.
Those transfers certainly inspired another TFC young gun in Ralph Priso, who emerged onto the scene last year. Priso, in a recent interview with 101 Great Goals, made his desire to play in Europe sooner rather than later pretty clear when asked about his objectives in 2021:
“I want to be a starter at TFC this year, I want to play as many games as I can. I believe I have the ability to do it and if that goes well, then I can go to the Olympics with the under-23s. I want to make that squad for the qualifiers, help them to achieve that and then ultimately make the competition itself and do well there.
By the end of the year I think that, with how well the North American guys are doing in Europe, I think there is a lot more eyes on the MLS. You’re seeing it with Bryan Reynolds or Caden Clark.
I want to be that next guy and I hope by the end of this year, start of the next, I can have some European interest. Hopefully after a year where I was a starter and a good player for TFC I can earn that. I want to get over there as soon as possible, that is my biggest goal because that is how I am going to become the best player that I can be.”
Priso isn’t alone. Waking the Red can also confirm that others like Jayden Nelson and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty also wish to one day play in Europe, and last season, Altidore, who has been perceived as a mentor for Akinola and other youngsters at the club, expressed that very notion on behalf of the Brampton native:
“People talk about the goals, but I’m on him (Ayo Akinola) for everything else because holding the ball up, clean touches, making sure he’s alert, those are the things that take you to the next level and get you to Europe where I think eventually he’s got to go to continue to grow and thrive,” Altidore told media in September. “And I think Toronto FC is a fantastic place for him at the minute, but I think he’s got to test himself at a higher level and he’s got to continue to work first to get there, but I’m very hopeful for Ayo as I am for Jayden (Nelson), Noble (Okello), Julian Dunn, I’m very hopeful for these kids.
And that’s the reality of the situation. At the end of the day, Toronto FC don’t play at the highest level in the world, and the aspirations of the kids coming through the ranks of the club are greater than what North America can offer.
And when you look at fellow Canadians like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David and what they’re accomplishing at top-flight leagues in Europe, if the interest is there, you have to wonder, why can’t the likes of an Akinola or a Nelson be put in a position to do so, as well?
So, what’s TFC’s role in all of this?
Obviously losing someone of Akinola’s stature immediately makes any team worse, whether that be now or next season. But in a sense, it could also be viewed as a positive long-term investment.
If Toronto FC want to continue to attract young up-and-coming homegrown talent—the next Akinola from Brampton let’s say—selling a homegrown product to a big club overseas would go a very long way in attracting more local talent.
We’ve already seen some academy products depart earlier to Europe instead of signing with the first team, so if TFC can map out a clear blueprint for making that jump, it could bode well for future negotiations.
Selling a player who has yet to reach their prime would also be a tribute to the franchise’s shift in philosophy.
Toronto, as a club, have rarely made any sort of profits on the transfer market. The approximately $3.4 million pounds they received for Maurice Edu in 2008 remains the biggest transfer fee in club history, although we still don’t fully know what they received for Sebastian Giovinco. The fee for Akinola would almost certainly top that.
“You know, you love to have those guys at your club but with the quality that they have, how long we’ll have them? We don’t know,” continued Altidore. “But that’s just the reality of football, but in the same breath, it’s a great thing to see. To see that they came here and they got themselves to a point that now they’re moving on, that’s huge. Obviously, we want them here as long as possible, we love them here in Toronto, but at the end of the day it’s also a huge plus when you see guys go on to a new level and take what they learn and continue to excel.”
To conclude, while these rumours probably won’t come to fruition by the start of the season, Akinola’s contract, at the very least, is something to keep a tab on over the course of the next year.
I’ll leave you with this wisdom from Mitchell Tierney, almost two years ago to the date:
“Toronto is where, traditionally, the best Canadian players have come from. However, the club has mostly been unable to get those players through to the first team and develop them into products worth selling on to other clubs.
This will take some time still. But it will also take a distinct commitment to allocating minutes to younger players that we certainly have not seen from Toronto in recent years.”