Ask Ivan Toney what success is for Brentford this season and his answer is emphatic. “Winning the league,” he tells Sky Sports. “Winning the league is the success we want. It is a crazy ask. But if you don’t set crazy targets then you are not doing it right.”
There is a hint of humour, there is bravado and braggadocio too. That is Ivan Toney and this is the mentality that has brought him back to the Premier League almost six years since his last appearance in the competition as a youngster at Newcastle.
“It feels like a long time coming, to be honest,” he says.
“It has been a crazy journey with some emotional moments along the way. I am finally here now. It is up to me whether I continue to stay a Premier League player or just get caught up in the lights and fall back but I am sure that will not be the case.”
He has earned this shot, plundering 31 goals for Brentford in the Championship last season, the most by anyone in a generation. He hit two more as they won promotion through the playoffs, the difference maker in what was his first season at Championship level.
This is not the same player who made those two substitute appearances in the top division almost six years ago. Loan spells at Barnsley, Shrewsbury, Scunthorpe and Wigan toughened him up.
“I am more physically ready. Mentally as well, which is important. Going on all those loan spells helped me massively. They turned me into a man quicker than I should have. I adapted to men’s football a lot quicker and I feel like it has made me the player I am today. I am back in the Premier League and I cannot wait to get started.”
The trip to Liverpool stands out having supported the club as boy. He must wait until January for that one. “My aim is to go there and score and win regardless of supporting them. It is a business thing. I just have to play the game and focus on what I have to do.”
First up, however, it is Arsenal at home, under the Friday night lights in Brentford. His mother is an Arsenal fan but her allegiance is not in doubt. “A nice game for her to watch, but I know who she wants to win and who she wants to score, it goes without saying.”
If he does find the net, he is planning a goal celebration to honour Peter Gilham, the club’s veteran stadium announcer who caused a social media stir when taking a tumble while filming last week – taking a whole green screen with him, much to Toney’s amusement.
🙈 Not everything went to plan at today's @premierleague content day …
(No stadium announcers were hurt in the making of this video)#BrentfordFC pic.twitter.com/7qCGb5SCkn
The Arsenal defence are less likely to see his playful side. A high jumper in his youth, nobody scored more headers than Toney in the Championship last season. Premier League defences might not be ready for him. “I hope I can get under their skin,” he says.
Before kick-off, his Brentford team-mates will take the knee. The players had stopped doing so in February in the belief that it was no longer having an impact but have reversed the decision in the spirit of unity. Toney, however, indicates that he will continue to stand.
“Everyone will have their own views. They have come to the conclusion they will take the knee. Personally, I feel like off my own back, I will still be standing. My views are still the same as what I voiced before. On that note, nothing has really changed.”
Perhaps his lone stance will have its own impact, but that is not his motivation.
“Listen, everyone can find the negatives from it, everyone can find the positives from it. All that matters at the end of the day is what I think of it. That is all that matters to me, my family and the club. They are supporting me on my decision, they back me all the way.”
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Toney is an individual, that much is clear. But as he alludes to with those comments, he has found a home in this Brentford team. The 25-year-old striker cites “the comfort of the club” as crucial to his success. “They just let me express myself on the pitch,” he explains.
Thomas Frank’s team is set up for Toney to score goals. “With the players around me, I am going to get chances. I am going to be able to get on the end of crosses.” But there is much more to his game than just goals as his 10 assists last season attest. It just works.
“In this team, everybody knows each other’s game inside and out. The manager is good at getting the best out of people. His coaching really shone through, brought the best out of everyone, and that is why we got promoted. What we did last season was incredible.”
They will need to improve if they are to thrive as Toney hopes. “We are going to have make sure we cut out the loose passes that we make because nine times out of ten it ends up in a goal,” he acknowledges. But there are no plans to compromise.
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“The same approach, nothing changes. We know what we are up against. We are up against the best in the world. But we are going to continue doing what we do best, playing our style of football. It is going to be aggressive but we are ready for the challenge.
“We all deserve this, not just myself, the whole team. We have just got to take it one game at a time and not get caught up in the occasion when playing at these big grounds because we are there to do one thing and that is to take three points off the opponents.”
The fans at the Brentford Community Stadium will help. The ground has the smallest capacity of any club in the Premier League. It will not feel like it. Bournemouth found that out when Brentford came from behind in the playoffs, roared on by 3,830 supporters.
“If the fans were not in the stadium it would have been a long climb to get back in the game,” says Toney. “It was literally like having a twelfth man. I have never heard fans like it and that was not even a third full. With all the fans back it will be crazy.”
Crazy is a recurring theme. He uses the same word to describe his goal target for the season. He is not prepared to share the exact number but leaves the distinct impression that it is sky high before insisting that it is achievable. “Let’s just hope I get close to it.”
He is aware too that millions of football fans have already included him in their fantasy team. ” I am hearing that a lot. No pressure, then?” If that is the briefest indication that he is feeling it, the sensation does not last long. “Make me captain,” he adds, quickly.
This enthusiasm is infectious, the confidence inspiring. But surely he does not really believe that these rank outsiders, back in the top division for the first time since 1947 and an even-money bet for relegation with many bookmakers, can trouble the top of the table.
Or does he?
“It is not about going up to survive, that is not our mentality.
“For all the boys in the changing room, [the target] is to win the league. You have to set targets that scare you. That definitely does scare us. We don’t know what we will do if we win the league. But if we set out to do that and fall just short then we are in a good place.
“We know what is to come. We just cannot wait for it to start now.”
Watch Brentford vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Friday August 13; kick-off 8pm
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