Simeon Akinola was tipped as “non-league’s next star” last summer by Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley, whose reputation for spotting talent has surely been underlined by the Imps’ sensational run to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
The Nigerian-born striker has played for Borehamwood, Billericay, Harrow Borough and under Cowley at Braintree. He was signed from the latter by League Two Barnet ahead of the January transfer window for £40,000.
Six years ago, Akinola was trying to impress in an open trial at his current club, and his route into the Football League hasn’t been straightforward.
He’s also played in Spain, having spent part of his upbringing in Madrid, and has a degree in engineering.
Elephant Sport spoke to the 24-year-old forward about his career to date, working with Cowley and his university studies.
What was it like being described as the ‘non-league’s next star’ by Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley?
It was great encouragement because Danny is well-respected within football. He’s someone I really admire, and to hear such praise from him was very positive.
You joined Barnet FC in January and must have been delighted to make the step from non-league to professional status?
Absolutely. It’s been my target ever since I arrived from Spain in 2007. I’m delighted to be part of Barnet FC and I look forward to help this club progress.
How much of a difference is it from turning out for the likes of Borehamwood, Billericay and Braintree to playing full-time?
It’s certainly a step up, particularly because of the fitness levels you reach as a full-time professional. Yet, I look fondly to the time I spent at those clubs because I gained skills that will help me through my career as a pro.
Did you ever think you would play in the professional game?
Yes, I had no doubt. I’ve always been confident in my ability, plus I’ve worked very hard to make sure I was ready for the opportunity.
I have seen your videos on YouTube and one in particular caught my eye. You attended Barnet’s ‘Get Signed Up’ trials, and then six years later you joined them for £40k. What happened at those trials, and do you feel it was destined to be after finally signing for the Bees?
I remember attending those trials when I was younger. You could say it’s destiny in a way because it was when the Hive [Stadium] first opened. But again there are no coincidences. The key to getting here has been God’s grace and hard work.
I read that you are eligible to play for Nigeria and Spain; is international football something you would consider?
It’s every players dream to represent their country. In regards to Spain, it’s very unlikely, but I’d love to represent the Super Eagles at some point in my career.
Not many footballers have a degree. How important was it to you to get yours alongside your football career?
The degree is actually in Systems Engineering! It was something encouraged by my parents. In our culture, education is regarded very highly. Plus it’s always good to have some qualifications for life after football should I decide to use them.
Do you think more footballers should continue their education and study for degrees?
I believe so. Football is unpredictable and the pro game only has room for so many players. A degree or any sort of higher education will ensure those who are unfortunate to not get there have something to fall back on.
After your career in football, will you be using your degree to get a job or will you remain in football? Or being still so young, have you not thought so far ahead?
It’s hard to say. A part of me wants to remain in football to help raise the next generation. But it all depends on how my career pans out.
Finally, a quick word on your former manager Danny Cowley; how well has he done to achieve such greatness with Lincoln City in the FA Cup?
It doesn’t come as a surprise to those who have worked with him before. He’s a top top manager destined for greatness, and I hope to work with him again at some point in the future.
Feature image courtesy of Barnet FC: follow the Bees on Twitter @BarnetFC
You can follow Simeon on Twitter @Simeonakinola15