People tell Nicky Ajose that his move to Peterborough United didn’t work out. But sitting in Elland Road, with Leeds United’s season 48 hours away, he’s struggling to understand the logic.
On Tuesday Leeds paid £150,000 to take him from London Road. The following afternoon Nottingham Forest rocked the boat by signing another of Peterborough’s strikers, Britt Assombalonga, in a mammoth £5.5m deal.
In the space of 24 hours, the strike partnership which finished last season with the Posh was hoisted into the Championship and tied to two clubs who, in Ajose’s opinion, are the biggest in the league. Something, somewhere went very right.
He might pinch himself slightly when he arrives at Millwall for the first game of the season tomorrow – in three years at London Road, he made more appearances on loan than he did for Peterborough – but Ajose feels nonetheless that his move to Leeds on a three-year deal was earned.
“I’ve done well in League One and League Two,” the 22-year-old says. “So I see it as natural progression to come to the Championship. I’d like people to recognise that I can play at this level.
“When I first went to Peterborough it was difficult for one reason or another. But if you look at how it ended, we were in the play-offs last season and the front two was me and Assombalonga. I’ve come to Leeds who, in my opinion, are the biggest club in the Championship and he’s gone to Forest who are the second biggest.
“If people say it didn’t work out, I’d argue against that. When I was given the opportunity and I played (for Peterborough) I was one of the most consistent players. And now I’ve ended up at Leeds United. I’ve come to a bigger club at a higher level.”
His 17 goals last season were spread across a loan at Swindon and a run of games with Peterborough towards the end of the term. Ajose says his spell at Swindon, under manager Mark Cooper, revitalised him and restored his confidence, rediscovering the form which tempted Peterborough to stump up £300,000 to sign him from Manchester United’s academy in 2011.
Assombalonga’s form was something else altogether, the deadliest of virtually any striker in the country. Some said Forest were out of their tree by paying £5.5m for him but at close quarters, Ajose saw his talent and his finishing touch.
“He’s a young player and he scored 33 goals last season, the most in the country I think,” Ajose says. “You’re only worth what someone pays for you and I don’t know how much Forest paid but he’ll do well there and he’ll score goals. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s a natural finisher.”
Ajose hopes that they will say the same of him at Leeds. He walked into the dressing room for the first time yesterday and found no divisions and no cliques; more of a collective atmosphere, in spite of the many new faces and nationalities.
“That’s my first impression of it,” he says. “Everyone seems to be together.”
He followed the rumours and the reports of chaos at Elland Road throughout the summer but was barely bothered by them. “I’m not daft,” he says. “I’ve read and I’ve seen the things that have been said but that’s all immaterial. Nothing changes when you get on the pitch. You’re still playing for Leeds United. You’re not playing for the rumours. To play here is a no-brainer.”
Tomorrow he might have the chance to play against Millwall, though he admits that his pre-season has been patchy and inactive. I’m feeling reasonably sharp and if the manager deems me ready then I can’t wait,” he says.
“I’ve never played at Millwall but I’ve heard all kinds about it. There’s rivalry and history and it’s something I’m looking forward to.”