Ivan Toney’s maiden England call-up just goes to prove that you should never give up on your dreams in football.
The Brentford striker could well make his debut for the national side against Italy on the grand stage of Milan’s San Siro on September 23.
Five years earlier to the day, Toney played for Wigan Athletic in a 3-2 League One defeat to Peterborough United in the rather more modest surrounds of London Road.
Ivan Toney – who posed for Sportsmail last year – has been called up to the England squad for the first time for the upcoming Nations League matches against Italy and Germany
Toney has been rewarded for a blistering start to the season after scoring five goals
Back then, that appeared to be Toney’s fate in football. A middling third-tier striker who’d seen his one crack at the big time – with Newcastle United – come and go.
But the man who has the words ‘suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret’ tattooed across his chest was never going to give up on his ambitions lightly.
Toney thought he’d cracked the big time when Newcastle signed him from League Two Northampton as a 19-year-old
By his own admission, Toney thought he’d made it when Premier League club Newcastle plucked him out of League Two Northampton Town as a 19-year-old back in 2015.
‘You are in the Premier League and people around you are saying, “You are playing for a Premier League team, that’s crazy,”‘ he told the Mail on Sunday’s Oliver Holt in an interview last year.
Toney hadn’t made it. He played just four first-team games for Newcastle, instead finding himself buffeted around by the uncompromising defenders of the EFL during an interminable string of loan spells.
Barnsley, Shrewsbury Town, Scunthorpe United, Wigan Athletic. Toney could certainly navigate his way around League One during that time. Navigating his way back out of it was the real challenge.
‘When you go on loan you think, “Right, I’m the big boy here, I’ve come from the Premier League, everything revolves around me.” But it doesn’t. It’s far from the case,’ he later admitted.
The turning point came in 2018 when Barry Fry brought him to Peterborough, ending his Newcastle torture.
He would dominate League One for two seasons, scoring 49 times in 94 appearances for the Posh to become one of the hottest properties below the Premier League.
That attracted the attention of Brentford, then still in the Championship but upwardly mobile and with an outstanding track record of polishing diamonds from the lower leagues.
After several loan spells, Peterborough United got his career back on track after Newcastle
He scored prolifically during his time at London Road, attracting the interest of Brentford
Full England squad
28-man England squad to face Italy in Milan on September 23 and Germany at Wembley on September 26, both in the UEFA Nations League
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Nottingham Forest, loan from Manchester United), Nick Pope (Newcastle United), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Everton, loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham United), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
Forwards: Tammy Abraham (AS Roma), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Ivan Toney (Brentford)
Toney didn’t come cheap – a fee of £10million including add-ons was a stretch for the Bees – but his 33 goals during the 2020-21 campaign, which guided Brentford into the Premier League for the first time, certainly repaid that.
A natural leader on and off the field, Toney scored goals of immense value, including penalties against Bournemouth in the play-off semi-final and Swansea in the Wembley final.
Many pundits feared for Thomas Frank’s team in the top-flight but, after an opening night 2-0 win over Arsenal set the tone, they survived comfortably.
The dozen goals Toney scored proved integral to Brentford being much more than a one-season wonder.
The ambition now is to establish themselves as part of the Premier League furniture. Toney has started this season on fire, with five goals so far.
He scored to spark a comeback to draw from two goals behind at Leicester on the opening weekend, netted in a losing cause at Fulham and then smashed a stunning hat-trick in the 5-2 home win over Leeds earlier this month.
Toney fires home the penalty that gave Brentford the lead against Swansea in the play-off final
The striker netted 33 goals in all to guide Brentford into the Premier League for the first time
His first on that afternoon made it a half-century for the club and must have sealed the deal for Gareth Southgate.
Toney’s England call-up will be highly satisfying but it’s unlikely this rejection to redemption tale has quite finished, not if you look at his career trajectory in recent years.
Any minutes on the pitch against Italy and Germany will be seen as an audition for a place on the plane to Qatar later this year.
The role of back-up striker to Harry Kane in the England team is an open vacancy. Tammy Abraham of Roma is the front-runner and is also in this squad but Toney has a brilliant opportunity to dazzle Southgate.
His inclusion in the squad is half the battle because the England manager is so loyal to the core of players that have seen him to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final.
Toney all smiles with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick in the 5-2 win over Leeds
Toney’s decision to turn down overtures from Jamaica to represent them last year in favour of the country of his birth – he comes from Northampton – looks like being vindicated.
Even if he doesn’t make the World Cup squad, Toney has every chance of being a fixture in the England squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers next year and beyond.
Toney spoke to the Mail on Sunday from the balcony in his west London apartment from which you could see the Wembley Arch on the horizon.
It’s been a long and winding journey, but Toney could soon be playing under it with Three Lions on his shirt and his mantra for life tattooed underneath.
Brentford boss Frank on Toney
Toney could become the first Brentford player to represent England since Leslie Smith back in 1939. Smith came on as a substitute for Stanley Matthews in a game against Romania.
The only other Bees player to pull on the Three Lions shirt is Billy Scott, who was called up for a game against Wales in 1936.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank hailed the striker, telling the club website: ‘This is a fantastic day, especially for Ivan but also for everyone at Brentford.
‘The most credit must go to Ivan, who has performed exceptionally on the pitch ever since he joined us and has shown that he has the potential to play for England.
Brentford manager Thomas Frank congratulated Ivan Toney on his England call-up
‘He is one of our leaders and has excelled as a player and a person. Every match, Brentford fans can see what he brings to our team, all over the pitch, and I hope England fans get a chance to see it as well.
‘Tributes should also be paid to his family and everyone who has worked with him at previous clubs to help him develop.
‘For the staff, it is a massive moment. We are privileged to have so many international players – we have watched them improve and show what they can do at the very highest level.
‘We are always proud when one of our players represents their country, especially if we have been on a journey with them.
Frank described the first England call-up for a Brentford player since 1939 as a ‘moment for us to cherish’
‘To have someone in the England squad is a huge achievement for everyone at the Club. To have an English player, at an English club, in the England squad, given the competition for those places, is a moment for us to cherish.
‘It will give everyone a little lift. I am sure he will go into that group and show his qualities in training, and I hope he does enough to get a chance to earn a cap.
‘It will be a top, top day for everyone at Brentford if that happens.’