Those who have been avid academy followers for some time will know what I mean when I say that Ken Aboh and Alex Matos were the two prized possessions that Norwich could not afford to let go.
Unfortunately, the latter has already departed (to Chelsea) but Aboh still remains hungry at Norwich.
Last season, Aboh reached double figures with goals, scoring for the U18s and U21s on multiple occasions. One trend that has emerged is that he often accumulates braces – examples include Leicester and Derby across his two seasons at U21 level.
The club has given him plenty of opportunities and exposure this season as he has played every single game and started in all but one. Aboh has repaid that faith, scoring four times, resulting in him being the second top goal scorer across the U18 and U21 teams.
Aboh testing the Leicester goal. Credit: @leicestercity
Given that he has been part of various strike partnerships so far this season, four goals is a good return. Ken has played with a striker partner in every game and has shown a tendency to drop deep to access the ball, which then allows him to progress the ball forward due to his fantastic running power.
This brings us nicely to Aboh’s physical qualities. His willingness to drop deep and collect the ball from midfield challenges the opposition midfielders to track an extra man, usually in the form of Aboh, who has a magnificent ability to shrug off defenders. Furthermore, he is effective in counter-attacking situations – again due to him being difficult to knock off the ball – which keeps the intensity of the attacks moving.
Basically, defenders find it hard to tackle him legally. Ken is a player with a low centre of gravity and combined with his impressive agility and imperious strength, results in him overcoming many physical duels. It’s usually uncommon that a small 18-year-old striker has electric pace correlated with natural strength but that’s been a common theme for many seasons now.
In terms of Ken’s mental characteristics, it’s difficult to gauge without him playing at first-team level, but there are already some cognitive traits that enhance his game.
What is very clear is that he has confidence in himself to perform. Due to his playing style of taking players on, pinning defenders, and driving up the pitch, confidence is an important trait in his armoury, otherwise his all-action style is ineffective. This has not been an issue in any game he has played at U18 and U21 level – he always wants the ball in any circumstance.
This is an especially encouraging trait for a striker as it can be difficult for some to reset after missing a goalscoring opportunity.
Linking back to my earlier point, Aboh is intelligent at coming deep to receive the ball but is also effective at varying his attacking movements by running the channels and getting in behind. During tighter games, he tends to impose his dominance on defenders by running down the sides of the centre backs, bringing his physical qualities into play.
This is often successful as he frequently challenges defenders one-on-one and overcomes them.
Due to the 21s having a preference for their creative players to play centrally, Aboh could get into more goal-scoring situations with runs in behind by enhancing his chemistry with the other central midfielders. Another side point to add is that he will get more goals with runs in behind the more games he plays, and as his footballing IQ evolves.
His game intelligence and ability to identify who has the momentum in a game are good., For example, Ken is able to read a situation, travel 50 yards with the ball while winning a foul in order to ease pressure on his defence – something that is hugely promising to see at academy level.
Aboh celebrating against Leicester. Credit: @leicestercity
In his last three games, Ken has played alongside new signing Daniel Ogwuru and they have worked well as a pair, scoring three times and assisting once when playing together.
Understandably there have been scenarios where they haven’t understood each other’s movement patterns, but that’s to be expected as they’ve only played a few games together.
Ken has many technical features to his game as well as physical and mental traits we have already discussed, one of which is the power he generates from his shots. A perfect example was his goal-of-the-month contender against Leicester, where he turned swiftly and powered one into the top left corner with virtually no backlift.
In addition, he is reliable at maintaining possession in the attacking third, rarely losing the ball when big chances arise. His sharpness at linking up with his teammates is also excellent.
But he is still learning.
An aspect of his game that needs to improve is his composure in front of goal. There were a couple of good examples of this in the recent home game against West Brom, most notably when Fin Welch played a tidy cutback to him from close range but instead of dispatching it into a corner with little opposition pressure, he blazed it over the bar.
This was not the first time something similar had happened during his time with the U18 and U21s but during September there appeared to be a different mentality from Aboh in front of goal, where he finished his chances emphatically from close range This needs to translate across a whole season so he can experience the feeling of scoring on a more consistent basis.
Ken signed a professional deal with the club in the 2021-22 season but is yet to sign an extension despite the club wanting him to. The club realises that Aboh is a wonderful talent who could help propel the club forward in years to come.
Whatever the future has in store for Ken Aboh, I have no doubt he’ll go on to have a successful career.
Personally, I would love it if Ken and Norwich continued working together for years to come but, as someone once said, football is a funny old game. We’ll have to wait and see.