Thursday 22 February 2018

At close to 17st, meet the biggest man in British football - Spurs have to deal with him this weekend

Adebayo Akinfenwa of Wycombe Wanderers. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Adebayo Akinfenwa of Wycombe Wanderers. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Jason Burt

As Adebayo Akinfenwa talks his Wycombe Wanderers shirt is hanging on a coat hanger behind him. And, yes, that hanger has XXL printed on it.

“Forget how big you think my arms are, the strongest thing I have got is my mind,” says the striker who boasts of a playing weight of 16-and-a-half stone - a figure which certainly looks far more accurate than the relatively modest 13st 7lbs listed on Wycombe’s website.

But then, Akinfenwa is larger in life in every respect – and has learnt to use that size and shape not just to forge a professional football career that has spanned 14 years and 13 clubs (two of them twice) but, increasingly, a profile that goes far beyond what would be expected of a journeyman League Two player.

“If you can get to grips with what you are as a person then whatever anybody else screams, shouts, it makes no difference,” Akinfenwa says. “I was at Plymouth and there’s 15,000 shouting that my breasts were offside. If my mind was not strong enough it would affect me.”

And Akinfenwa’s mind is full of a whirlwind of thoughts, covering everything from writing his autobiography, to dreaming of being an actor - or, more specifically, being in a “X-men” movie - to his clothing brand, video games and social media profile. Then there is his plans to open an academy, his “BMO” (“Beast Mode On”) mentoring scheme, name-dropping having a burger with Steven Gerrard and a chat with Thierry Henry.

There is also his opinion of Dele Alli who, he hopes, will line up against him for Tottenham Hotspur in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round tie at White Hart Lane. The pair have come across each other before – when Alli was at MK Dons and Akinfenwa was, of course, at AFC Wimbledon. The clubs, with their bitter history, met in the League Cup in 2014 when Alli was just 18.

“I tried to intimidate him, and he was not intimidated,” Akinfenwa says. “I kid you not, I ran for all my might to try and catch him and I didn't. Then I was like: ‘Look, I know where you have got to go for half-time so I am just going to meet you in the tunnel'. That's what I said to him. And he was like 'fine'. I was like ‘OK’.

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HIGH WYCOMBE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 26: Adebayo Akinfenwa of Wycombe Wanderers in the gym during Wycombe Wanderers Media Access at the Wycombe Wanderers FC Training Ground on January 26, 2017 in High Wycombe, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

“I am cool with that. He was young. That is a beautiful thing. He was very cocky, very lairy, very self-assured. It is a good thing. I put out a tweet saying there are good players in the lower leagues because he was doing it in the lower leagues and then he did it against Chelsea.

“I saw him at one event a year later and I said 'you are lucky, I would have given you a suplex (a wrestling hold).' But no, he was cool, I did not have a problem with him standing up for himself. I have got so much respect for him and I think he is going to go on and on and on.”

Alli would fit into a line that Akinfenwa is fond of using: “There’s no shame staying in your footballing lane. And my footballing lane is I don’t ever try and do anything different.”

He adds: “I’m not saying I was talking like this when I was 22 because I wasn’t. I remember for years when people concentrated on my size and it used to get me mad. They would say ‘you’ve got a good touch for a big guy’ and I would say ‘no, I’ve just got a good touch, take the big guy out of it’. It used to get at me. I’d scored x amount of goals so stop saying I’d scored x for a big guy.

"But then as you get older you realize it takes so much energy to try and break down so many barriers. Then I was just like ‘yep, I know I am a big guy. Yep, I know I’m not built like a footballer. But at the end of the day I am a footballer and my stats don’t lie and you’ve got to be more than just a big guy to play for 14 years’.”

The stats do not lie at Wycombe, either, who, as Akinfenwa points out, are on a 16-match unbeaten run with the striker having contributed 10 goals having joined last summer. Certainly his personality and belief is an asset – as his former club, AFC Wimbledon, found when they only went down 2-1 to Gerrard’s Liverpool in the FA Cup third round two years ago. Both Akinfenwa and Gerrard scored and although the former’s profile is nowhere near the latter’s it received a huge boost from that fixture, live on television.

“Every away ground we go to it takes me 20 minutes to leave,” Akinfenwa says. “I get abuse while I am playing and afterwards they want to take pictures. It’s just how my life has become since the Liverpool game.”

Sometimes, he admits, it can become a “circus” and he acknowledges that his profile does not fit that of lower-league footballer. But he is comfortable in his environment, even if one regret – the only regret - is a sense that he could have played at a higher level and that perceptions of his physique may have held him back.

“I think it’s where I lose it the most,” he explains.

“I talk to referees and try and be respectful about it but a ref turns round and says ‘yeah, big man, Akinfenwa, I know it was a foul but you didn’t go down’ or ‘you were just too strong’. That’s like penalising someone for being too quick – so he runs past you and it’s like ‘nah, nah, come back, you are too fast’. And I’m like ‘if I’m not going down it’s because they are not pushing me enough to go down but it’s still a foul’. There are certain referees that know they are going to play on Akinfenwa.”

Not that he expects Mauricio Pochettino to be making special plans for him. “He is not going to be saying look we need to worry about Akinfenwa,” he says. “But if we put crosses and we get there first we get there first.”

There is no lack of belief. “It is too easy to be put in a box,” Akinfenwa says. “You are too small to play basketball, too small to play football, too big to play football. I want to be able to talk to the next generation that it is about you, your mind and if you believe it you can achieve it."

Telegraph.co.uk

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