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Benik Afobe showing potential that led Barcelona to show an interest in him as a 17-year-old

Date Posted,March 31, 2017

There are different routes to the Premier League and Benik Afobe wouldn’t change anything about his.

The Bournemouth striker is scoring goals at the ­highest level just as many, including Robin van Persie and Barcelona’s scouts, ­always thought he could.

Afobe, 24, has bagged four in his last eight starts – plus half a goal he is also claiming after his effort against ­Swansea went down as an Alfie Mawson own goal.

But his journey to this point has been a rollercoaster one.

It began at Arsenal where there were big hopes for the big striker.

Afobe is in good form for Bournemouth (Photo: 2017 Getty Images)

Van Persie was impressed enough to take an interest as he came through the ranks, passing on tips about diet and urging “big, strong, proper English centre-­forward” Afobe to “keep working and you will get your chance in the Premier League.”

Afobe also caught Barcelona’s eye after scoring four goals in two games for England under-17s in 2009.

A Barca scout approached Afobe’s dad after the ­second game against Azerbaijan, offering a car, a house, and a contract when he turned 17.

“The Barca stuff was funny because my mates were saying ‘Barca this, Barca that’ but I was never going to go,” Afobe said.

“My aim since I was six or seven was to play in the ­Premier League and be a success.

“I want to be a Premier League player, week in, week out, for 10 seasons.”

The striker attracted interest from Barcelona as a 17-year-old (Photo: Getty Images Europe)

A man-of-the-match ­Arsenal first-team debut in the Emirates Cup was ­another encouraging indicator. But his competitive bow never came.

Instead he was loaned to five different clubs, enjoying mixed fortunes, before “the turning point” at MK Dons.

Afobe repaid manager Karl Robinson’s faith in him by scoring 19 goals in just half a season on loan, which earned him a permanent move to Wolves. A year and 23 goals later Bournemouth snapped Afobe up for £10million.

“Looking back, I am so glad the way my career has gone,” he said. “I am much stronger mentally now.

“If I had gone into ­Arsenal’s first team straight away, the things that have come at me in the last ­couple of years I would have struggled with because I wouldn’t have known what to do.”

Those things included being Bournemouth’s then-record signing, irregular starts, and fitness struggles while he tried to get up to speed for boss Eddie Howe’s high-intensity training and tactics.

Benik Afobe scores
Afobe has impressed on the south coast (Photo: Action Images via Reuters)

Afobe’s outlook on life also helped him cope – he sees positives where others might see the opposite.

He said: “I’ve always been like that and it helps. I saw a stat the other day that said I am second for big chances missed behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic but out of the top 10 players I have played the least minutes by more than half.

“It’s not a good stat but I’ve been on the bench most of the season yet I’m still getting all these chances. It shows I am in the right places.

“I scored 47 goals in two seasons before this year so I know can finish and I think I’m getting back to my best now.”

One of the rare times his bubbly personality was missing came earlier this season.

Afobe admits ‘I lost my head and was acting like a little boy’ after his injury-hit start to life at Bournemouth until a ­season-changing heart-to-heart with Howe in ­November.

Phil Jones in action with Benik Afobe
Afobe in action against Manchester United (Photo: Action Images via Reuters)

He said: “He reassured me that he believed in me and that I was part of his plans. Sometimes that’s all you need.

“We get paid a lot of money but we are humans too so when you hear your manager say stuff like that you want to prove him right.

“The chat could have arguably changed my season.

“I clicked my finger and thought ‘the penny is dropping here, you’re living your boyhood dream playing in the Premier League.’

“Since then it has just changed for me and I have I started to train better.

“I’ve learned a lot this ­season and want to put it into practice for the next few games and have a strong end to the season.”

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