It’s rare that so much money is paid for a player as young as 20-year-old Britt Assombalonga. But what is even more remarkable is that the £1.5 million Watford received for the Congolese starlet was paid by Peterborough United, a club in League One, the third tier of English football. Posh smashed their transfer record to sign the pacy striker, and he has immediately started repaying the sizeable fee, scoring eight goals in his first 100 competitive appearances for Posh.
Assombalonga was born in Kinshasa on 6 December 1992. His father Fedor, who was a Zaire international, moved to London with his family in 1993 when Britt was only eight months old. At 17, he signed for the Hornets, known for having one of the best academies in English football – notable players to have emerged from here include Ashley Young, Marvin Sordell and Adrian Mariappa. In March 2012, Assombalonga became the 50th graduate from Watford’s academy to play in a competitive match for them.
Having had loan stints at non-league clubs Wealdstone and Braintree Town during the 2011-12 season “to challenge him”, Assombalonga was dispatched for the entire 2012-13 season to League Two club Southend United. He made an electric start to life in the fourth tier, with twelve goals on the board in the first four months of the season. I saw one of his best performances in person, as he combined with strike partner Gavin Tomlin to tear apart Torquay United’s defence in a 4-1 victory, one of the best attacking displays seen at Plainmoor in recent years. Although he only scored four more in the remaining months as Southend’s league form ebbed away, he did enough to capture the attention of Peterborough, who were relegated from the Championship and were eager to bounce straight back.
Under Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex and a former Manchester United player in his own right, Peterborough have stood out in recent years for playing some of the most exciting attacking football in the Football League, adopting the “score one more goal than the opposition” mantra which endeared them to many neutrals – strikers Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McLean, Paul Taylor and Dwight Gayle have all left London Road for fees greater than £1 million as a result of their goalscoring exploits here.
Assombalonga immediately set about contributing this tradition. In their first six competitive matches, Peterborough scored 23 goals, including beating Championship side Reading 6-0. Assombalonga contributed five of the goals himself, and has scored a further three in the games since, including two against Bristol City, where he picked up a yellow card for celebrating with his father in the stand. Though he is currently on a four-game goalless streak, he has already established himself as a leading contender to be top scorer this season, and Peterborough sit 2nd in the table, a point behind leaders Leyton Orient.
Predictably, the question of international football has arisen – though he has spent most of his life in England and has not yet returned to the land of his birth, he is currently facing attempts by both his father and his Peterborough team mate Gabriel Zakuani to persuade him to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of course, it’s not as if the DRC are lacking in striking options, with Dieumerci Mbokani, Tresor Mputu and Lomana LuaLua available, amongst others. Assombalonga has stated his desire to return to the country before committing his international future them.
He is quick, he can head effectively despite being only 5 ft 9, is a great finisher, and has a few tricks up his sleeve too. If he can iron out his inconsistencies, you wouldn’t bet against seeing Assombalonga in the Africa Cup of Nations in the blue shirt of his homeland within the next few years – nor would you bet against seeing him follow Dwight Gayle into the Premier League.