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Adebayo Akinfenwa: Wycombe striker eyes 'beautiful Wembley ending' before retirement

Adebayo Akinfenwa
Adebayo Akinfenwa with the trophy after Wycombe’s League One play-off final win in 2020

When Wycombe Wanderers hosted Doncaster Rovers on 2 April, the game was billed by the club as Adebayo Akinfenwa’s ‘last dance’.

Such a description was deliberately premature because the striker known as ‘the Beast’ had let it be known he planned to retire at the end of the season – and six more substitute cameos have followed since then.

Fate has decreed, though, that Akinfenwa’s final rumble will take place at a grander setting than Adams Park – although if his dreams of a post-football career with World Wrestling Entertainment come to fruition, maybe it won’t be his last one.

The 40-year-old will be in the Wycombe squad against Sunderland at Wembley on 21 May, with a place in the Championship next season at stake.

“If it’s 10 minutes, two minutes, to be able to get out on the hallowed turf for my last kick in the professional game, it’s a beautiful ending to my story – as long as we get the win,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Modest beginnings

“As a five-year-old, I watched John Barnes [on TV] and I wanted to be a professional footballer,” Akinfenwa recalls.

He achieved his goal on a Wednesday evening in October 2003, when he made a goalscoring debut for Boston United in a Football League Trophy game against Swindon Town, having begun his career as a teenager playing for little-known Lithuanian club FK Atlantas.

His Football League debut followed three days later, but it was a brief spell with the Lincolnshire club and his football journey took him to Leyton Orient, Rushden & Diamonds and Doncaster over the next few months – with none of them convinced he had what it took to justify a long-term contract.

Akinfenwa finally found some stability on the south coast with Torquay United, scoring 16 goals in 41 games during the 2004-05 season before being snapped up by Swansea City.

He spent 16 successful months in south Wales, but since then the moves have kept coming at fairly regular intervals, taking him to Millwall, Northampton (twice), Gillingham (twice), Wimbledon and finally, in July 2016, at Wycombe.

Adebayo Akinfenwa
Akinfenwa scored for Wycombe in the Championship in a 2-1 home win over Bristol City

He did not make the best start for the club – being sent off in a pre-season friendly against French club Le Havre.

But Akinfenwa contributed 10 goals as the Chairboys won promotion to the Championship via the play-offs two years ago and had the satisfaction of scoring in the second tier against Bristol City, before they were relegated – and he wants to see the club put that right in his final match.

“My knee has been gone for the last 18 months so I’m OK with it being the end,” the striker said.

“I’m saying this now because at this point of the season, May time, my body and my mind is just ready to relax anyway. I’m literally done and I’m looking forward to a new challenge.”

Biggest influences

Having played for so many clubs, Akinfenwa has come into contact with a lot of managers and coaches, so who have been the biggest influences on him?

“When I was a youngster, there were different managers and I’d hang on their every word, there’d be senior pros that you’d listen to more,” he said.

“I remember Kenny Jackett taught me how to win, he picked the team and he was ruthless.

“And then there was Martin Allen, Aidy Boothroyd and Leroy Rosenior, I had these different managers that played different roles in my career, Neal Ardley at Wimbledon, and then, of course, there’s no denying the relationship me and Gareth Ainsworth have got.”

Adebayo Akinfenwa and Gareth Ainsworth
Akinfenwa and Ainsworth have built a close relationship at Wycombe

Akinfenwa believes his link-up with the rock and roll loving Wycombe boss was meant to be.

“I think everything happens for a reason, people come into each other’s lives for a reason, our birthdays are on the same date, we were destined to work with one another.

“He is unapologetically himself which therefore translates to the team, who can be unapologetically themselves.

“He wears cowboy boots and shirts open [at the neck] in the winter, but I love that about him. He is being him. I’m not a conventional footballer, I’m not built that way, but he allows me to be me, so the relationship between us will last way longer than just football.”

What comes next?

Chef Tom Kerridge teaches Adebayo Akinfenwa how to make a vegetarian pre-match meal

Having been subject to the daily routine of football life for so many years, Akinfenwa is looking for a variety of roles in future years.

He is making a documentary about his life, fancies starring in a movie with Denzel Washington, and then of course, there is the WWE.

Plenty of athletes from other sports have tested themselves in the squared circle – former Germany goalkeeper Tim Wiese was with the WWE from 2014-17, and ex-Team GB Olympic boxer Anthony Ogogo is signed to rival promotion, AEW.

“I’d love to do a Beast shoulder charge – I’m a massive WWE fan and so are my kids, so when they came over to the UK I reached out and we had some conversations, and we’re just going to see what happens,” he said.

“I’ve been a professional for 22 years and so I don’t want another specific profession. I want to try my hand at a lot of things.

“There’s wrestling, there’s mentoring, presenting, but I’ll stay in the media because football has been a massive aspect of my life.

“For me, I’m not saying the world is my oyster but I’m going to try as many different things as possible, and what I land with is what I land with.”

Akinfenwa has had his share of disappointments, missing a penalty when Swansea lost to Barnsley in a shootout at the end of the 2006 League One play-off final among them.

But his last kick for AFC Wimbledon was a goal from the penalty spot against Plymouth in the 2016 League Two play-off final.

“My best career moment has to be scoring at Wembley. It’s every boy’s dream growing up. I’ll always remember it,” he added.

Many Wycombe fans – and neutrals – would be delighted to see a repeat of that as they bid farewell to Bayo at the home of English football.

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