Ivan Toney: 'I want to inspire people to do unthinkable things'
Just over two years ago, Ivan Toney was visiting St George’s Park as a League One player for a training camp. Fast-forward and he is back at the National Football Centre but this time as a senior England international, hoping to book his place at this year’s World Cup.
In 2020, Toney spent a week at St George’s Park with his club side Peterborough United, shortly before his move to Brentford.
The striker’s performances in his maiden campaign in the Championship saw him score a then-division-record 31 goals to fire Brentford into the Premier League for the first time, and after impressing in the top flight last season, he has stepped up once again.
Five goals in his first six appearances this time around, following on from 12 last season, was enough to persuade Gareth Southgate to continue Toney’s meteoric rise by giving him a first England call-up at any level for this month’s UEFA Nations League matches with Italy and Germany.
“We were in League One and training here and now I’m here with England. It is crazy how things can turn around and work out. It is such a privilege to be sitting here,” Toney said from St George’s Park on Tuesday.
Similar to Leicester City’s James Justin, Toney has received an England call-up this year despite playing in League One only a couple of years ago.
The incredible rise is likely to provide hope to hundreds of players plying their trade in the Football League and Toney said: “It is nice to think I might be inspiring some people. That is what I want to do in life. I want to inspire people to do unthinkable things and to think that I may have not played in any of the age groups but I can still get into the senior squad. It is doable. If I can do that, why can’t other people do that?”
Toney started his footballing journey playing with his cousin and friends outside his home in Eastfield, Northampton, before joining Soccerstars in nearby Upton Sixfields at the age of nine.
At 13, he followed his older cousin Nathan Hicks in signing for Leicester City but after a couple of seasons, it was decided he would not receive a scholarship.
A move to his local club Northampton Town followed and he would go on to become the club’s youngest ever player when he made his debut aged 16.
Toney’s 13 goals in his first 60 appearances earned him a big move to Premier League side Newcastle United in 2015 aged 19 but after just four appearances in his maiden season, he was loaned out to Barnsley.
The striker spent the next three-and-a-half seasons in League One, during loan spells and then following a permanent move to Peterborough.
Toney became one of the deadliest strikers in the Football League during his time at The Posh, scoring 49 times in 94 appearances in all competitions.
So it came as no surprise when Brentford and head coach Thomas Frank decided to sign Toney in the summer of 2020 and he repaid that faith in the first season, firing them to promotion and then Premier League safety.
And it was Frank who told Toney he had been called up by England, with the striker revealing: “I was driving to training and the Brentford manager called me. I was actually running a bit late so I thought he was calling me because of that but it was because I had been called up to the senior squad.
“When he told me, I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. It was a crazy moment and I just couldn’t wait to call my family and let them know the news.
“I called my family group chat because I couldn’t call one of them and not the other – they would have been a bit moody if I had done that – so I called everyone at the same time.
Everyone was buzzing when I told them the news and there was screaming for like 20 minutes!
“My dad was beeping his horn, wherever he was. People must have thought he was going crazy.
“It was a very emotional moment for my whole family and it is such a big achievement to be representing my country.”
The important role played by his family is not lost on Toney.
He explained: “It’s the sacrifices that my Mum, my Dad and my sister have made and everyone around me. With my sister, she was at university and she would take me to football and then do her university work in the car while she waited to take me home while my Mum and Dad were working. So she has played a part [in me being here].
“My Mum played a massive part. She would be making dinners and sometimes she would be making sure I was eating and not herself. And also my dad played a massive part by taking me all over the country, whether it was trials here or there and coming to every game - my sister would also come to support me all of the time.
“Everyone played a part so it is a bit sweeter when I am sitting here now in an England top representing the country. It is not just me who has done this, it is everyone around me who has played a massive part and I can’t thank them enough.”
Family is a theme which comes up regularly during Toney’s interview, even when the topic of this year’s World Cup is raised.
It’s four years since England reached the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup and if you were to create an England squad for the 2022 edition then, few would have included a striker who had just spent the season on loan at Wigan Athletic and Scunthorpe United.
But Toney’s family had faith even back in 2018 that the striker could make the plane to Qatar this winter and he now has the chance to impress Southgate in his final camp before having to decide on England’s World Cup squad.
Toney said: “Watching the World Cup last time around, my family said: ‘Next time it will be you going to the World Cup’. You don’t really think four or five years down the line as a player but then as it got closer and closer to the World Cup, my chances became bigger and then finally sitting here now, you can see where my parents were coming from and why they had that belief in me, that one day I would have this opportunity. Here I am now, a step closer to hopefully being involved in the World Cup.”
He continued: “I always had the mindset that I was a League One player but had the mindset is of a Premier League player, and if you manifest it then you have a big chance of doing it.
“No matter where I was, whether I was on loan here, there and everywhere, I always had the mindset that one day I would be a Premier League player and now I am a Premier League player and an England international. So I think from a young age, I believed in myself and believed in my ability and here I am now.”
Toney was speaking on Tuesday, two months to the day until the first game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the next week could be a crucial one in Toney’s career.
England travel for a game in Italy on Friday night before welcoming Germany to Wembley Stadium connected by EE on Monday, in what will be the last England game before Southgate names his World Cup squad.
And Toney said: “I have an opportunity now to put my name forward for the World Cup squad so it is up to me now and I need to take the opportunity with both hands and hopefully I can do enough to be in the manager’s mind for the World Cup.”
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