To: Peterborough United (Undisclosed fee but believed to be around £1.25 million)
Watford Career: 4 games (2 starts), 0 goals
It seems a bit odd to be writing an outgoing piece about a player who saw so little game-time in the first team. The sadness of Britt’s departure is not taken from what he achieved in his 127 minutes in a yellow shirt, but what his stints elsewhere suggest he could have gone on to do, and what he himself represented.
Over the last year, when our detractors have spouted their criticism of the club losing sight of our values as a team built on the foundations of our academy we could simply point to players like Tommie Hoban, muscling past far more experienced centre halves to claim a place on the team, or Lloyd Doyley – steadfast and loyal as always – for our rebuttals.
But I always preferred to refer to Britt. While Hoban was at Arsenal until he was fourteen and Lloyd has been our academy yardstick for over a decade, in Assombalonga we had a real product of the community. Not only had we developed him through our academy, but we’d also plucked him out of the Hertswood Impact Scheme, a community programme run by the club’s Sport and Education Trust. Britt was the fruit of a wide-reaching ethos that spread throughout the Hertfordshire community.
Not only that, but he could score goals for fun. The year after starring in the side that got to the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup before falling to Chelsea (and, in hindsight, what a side it was – 11 of the 16 players in the squad that day earned pro contracts), he started his loan progression up the divisions. Beginning the 2011/12 season at Wealdstone alongside Connor Smith he scored 11 goals in 16 games. From there, he moved up the ladder to Blue Square Premier side Braintree. A goal and a red card in his debut against Lincoln kicked off a month-long spell that returned 5 goals from 5 games.
He may have been a latecomer to youth football, but he was making up for lost time. Sean Dyche recalled Assombalonga after this blistering run of form for Braintree, and involved him in the first team’s run-in, giving him his first action in a surprising start at home to Coventry. The young striker looked raw – as you would expect – and not quite ready for Championship football, but he showed glimpses in his four appearances, including a start in a heated reunion with Malky Mackay in Cardiff, of the powerful and pacy front-man he could be.
Last summer, an injury kept Britt out of pre-season action. Gianfranco Zola lamented this fact at the Fans’ Forum:
“It was a pity that during preseason he got injured quite early so he didn’t have an opportunity to play the friendlies. Because I see something in him. If he had the possibility to play pre-season he would have had maybe a better chance, but he still has time. He knows that. The other day he came back for a training session with us. He’s somebody certainly that’s catching the eye so we hope he can continue like this.”
Zola’s loss was Southend’s gain as Britt made the step-up to League Two for his next loan. Early season form suggested that there was no stopping the Congo-born striker as he scored 11 in his first 20 games for the Shrimpers. Still only 19 at this point, Assombalonga started to gain rave reviews. In his first 45 games in senior football, he had netted 27 times. Very impressive.
He slowed down over the course of his season in Essex, finishing with 16 goals in 49 games, but he clearly had a goalscoring knack, it was just a case of seeing how far up the Football League he could take it.
It looked like he’d get a chance to show if his year in League Two had prepared him for the hardships of Championship football. With Vydra and Geijo gone, he was to be fourth in line for an attacking role; and a hat-trick against Sudtirol in Italy earlier this month furthered the suggestion that this could be his breakout year in Watford colours.
In the end, however, it was not to be. The sum offered by Peterborough, which I am reliably informed is in excess of a million pounds with significant future incentives, was too good to turn down for a player that was not guaranteed to make it at Championship level. Will Hoskins scored a ton of goals for Rotherham and never looked like doing so at Vicarage Road – scoring is a habit that is easily lost, and Britt’s stock is at a level that it might never be at again.
At Posh, Britt will be afforded regular football, and will have the time to play himself into the league – a luxury that he would not have at Watford. He also joins friend and countryman (not a Roman, though) Gabriel Zakuani, so the move may see him enter the international picture with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It’s a great shame that we say goodbye to another Academy graduate – the 50th to play for the club no less – but football is still, though we are loath to admit it, a business, and the Pozzos didn’t become as wealthy or as successful as they are by passing up on deals like this.
Cheerio Britt – go get us that sell-on fee.