Player Focus: Jake Wakeling

In the summer, Jake Wakeling found himself in the same position as thousands of other 18 year-old footballers, hopeful of a career in the professional game. Released by West Bromwich Albion in the midst of a global pandemic that ground football and the world to a halt, you could be forgiven for cursing your luck. Wakeling, on the other hand, dusted himself down and now finds himself propelled into the Under 23’s Development Squad at Premier League side, Leicester City, after a spell with Southern League Central side Alvechurch. Following the confirmation of his move on Monday for a reported five figure fee, I was delighted to be joined by Church chairman Richard Thorndike to discuss the move.

Back in September, Thorndike took to Twitter proclaiming that people will start to know who Jake Wakeling is. It’s fair to say that he has had plenty of belief in the young forward, who he has known since he was 13. Following his release from WBA, how did he turn up at Lye Meadow?

“There’s more 16-20 year old’s without a deal this summer than ever before. They’ll do the rounds at all the local sides. It’s difficult to stand out when there’s five players in your position going for that one spot. I told Jake that would be no good for him. I told him to trust me.”

Church have a recent record of propelling players into the EFL, with Yusifu Ceesay moving directly to Blackpool in 2018 and just last year, Josh March to Forest Green Rovers, via a spell with Paul Holleran’s Leamington in the National League North. No surprise then, that Wakeling felt able to trust his chairman, who rightfully takes great pride in providing the platform for players to progress. Indeed, Wakeling credits Thorndike with “believing in him when no one else did.”

Ian Long returned from Stourbridge in February, having previously guided Alvechurch into Step 3. Sitting second bottom of the Southern League Central before the league was null and voided, it would evidently be a big summer as Church looked to climb the table in 20/21. So, when Thorndike recommended the young starlet to Long, how did that go?

“I knew Longy would love him. The manager wants his forwards to work hard. Jake is the epitome of that, he’d chase pigeons if he had to.”

With a double in the FA Cup against Shifnal backed up by goals against Royston and Stratford, it was obvious that he was more than just a runner. Finishing with 7 goals in league and cup competitions for Church, it could be said they were fortunate that Wakeling actually saw competitive action for the Lye Meadow side.

“We played Kidderminster in pre-season. They beat us 4-1 but he looked good. Going up against defenders like Lowey (Keith Lowe) was only going to help him. Post match, (Kidderminster manager) Russ Penn phoned me about him.”

That move didn’t materialise, and in a quirk of fate, Wakeling would score one of the penalties in the shootout as Alvechurch progressed in the FA Cup at the expense of, yes, Kidderminster. They weren’t the only National League North side interested though, as Leamington failed to convince Wakeling to join them. They were in good company though, as Solihull Moors and Cheltenham Town both tried and failed. By the time of his hat-trick against Barwell, people were starting to wake up to Wakeling, as Thorndike predicted in September. At that game, there were “scouts from the Premier League down. Derby were there, Cheltenham again, Forest Green and Leicester.” The Foxes would make their move, agreeing a trial for their Under 23’s side who were struggling.

A brace against Brighton’s Development Squad did no harm as it became obvious that he would be joining Steve Beaglehole’s side permanently. The second nationwide lockdown throughout November delayed the deal somewhat, but through it went. Already with 3 goals to his name for The Foxes, attention now turns to their Papa John’s Trophy game with Salford City on Tuesday.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” may be a cliche, but when a player has both of those qualities at such a young age, it would take a brave person to predict his ceiling. For now, let’s sit back and watch with pride as another Non-League prospect has found his way back to the professional game.

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