The Monday Profile: Nicky Ajose
Whilst enjoying a pint with representatives of Newcastle United website Leazes Terrace on Saturday, my companions expressed approval at the number of Toon second teamers that have recently been sent out on loan to gain experience down the leagues. The Magpies once famously axed their reserve team and it’s not unfair to say that the club’s nurturing of their youngsters has been erratic over the years. This is in evident contrast to the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal; whole legions of whose employees can be espied at football grounds the length of the land.
One of the highest profile loan players of this season has been the Red Devils’ Nicky Ajose – his sumptuous early lob against Oxford a week ago caught the attention of Football League Show viewers and that match’s double was repeated at the weekend; the 19 year old pilfering another couple in the 4-2 win at a Northampton Town side that are now in acute trouble.
A knee injury in February caused a hiatus in his Bury career and if his form on returning to Gigg Lane has signalled a step up in fortunes, he had enjoyed an abundant season before that setback. Ajose now has eleven goals in twenty two games for Bury and his scorching rapidity has so often proved too much for the fourth tier, a cluster of his goals coming from his ability to latch on to through balls, flick ons and punts. He has taken one-on-ones with aplomb.
The optimum time for a player to be out on loan is hard to judge. Leave when 17 or 18 and the rigours imposed by hardened defences can knock a player’s confidence; depart at 20 and the suspicion is that this is the last chance; an example of a top manager fattening up an unwanted player for market. 19 is therefore probably the perfect age – still tender, but developed enough to perhaps deserve a first team shot on returning. Fail though, and the conclusion will be stark – if you aren’t performing well at Tranmere or Leyton Orient, you aren’t going to end up wowing them at Anfield or the Emirates – Aaron Ramsey should perhaps be worried after his underwhelming stint at Cardiff.
If Ajose hasn’t quite matched the heights of Jermain Defoe during his famous spell at Bournemouth in the late nineties, he can certainly be said to have excelled on every level and it will be intriguing to plot his career trajectory from here. Earlier this season, I was impressed with two more excellent United youngsters, Cameron Stewart and James Chester but Alex Ferguson was obviously less enamoured. If Bury are promoted and Ajose stays, then he may get the chance to show what he can do a level up – he may have to exceed even this year’s fine displays.