Chris Wood 20 Striker West Bromwich Albion (Millwall)
When a player has been loaned out five times before his 21st birthday, one has to wonder whether his parent club really expects him to pass muster. But West Bromwich Albion have shown a lot of faith in Chris Wood over the years, picking him up as a youngster after his performances for New Zealand's Under-17 side and keeping his contract renewals ticking over right up to today.
Wood made a name for himself at the World Cup in South Africa, helping to lead the line for an All Whites team that exited the tournament unbeaten, but at the first hurdle. But by that time he was already a familiar face around the Hawthorns, and he has played a shade over 20 league matches for the Baggies since signing professional terms in 2009. He joined West Brom's academy in 2008 but in first team terms he's barely had time to knock the mud out of his boots.
Clearly, his progress has mostly taken place elsewhere since then. After a three-month loan at Barnsley, the next destination on the Chris Wood Football Tour was Brighton & Hove Albion's Withdean Stadium, where he quickly racked up more appearances than he has made for West Brom and scored the goals to prove it.
Birmingham City were next - he's played more for them than for the Black Country club too - and his goalscoring statistics continued to improve. No surprise, then, that Bristol City were willing to take him on his second loan spell of last season, beginning in January of this year.
His time at Ashton Gate was less prolific and looked for much of this summer to be his last temporary assignment away from B71. Albion, now firmly established in the Premier League and looking climb another rung under new manager Steve Clarke, appear to have lost interest in the development of this young striker. In some ways it's a surprising decision, but the Premier League's jam today culture probably means that Albion's move to find Wood a new home was becoming inevitable.
Despite reported interest from Paul Lambert and Norwich City back in April, and Albion's clear intent to sell him after snaring their own loan move for Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku, Wood's latest switch away from West Brom was yet again a temporary measure, this time to Championship outfit Millwall, where Kenny Jackett is known to have an eye for a striker. Ironically, Lambert's interest at the end of last season was said to involve Wood replacing Steve Morison, perhaps Jackett's most notable success in this area.
In his early days at Millwall, Wood is continuing to take the opportunities that come his way, a characteristic that could very possibly come back to bite Clarke and West Brom on the buttocks in the future. What the years to come hold is not a concern for Wood just yet; the young Kiwi star, a regular at international level, has made it clear that he wants to focus on playing for the Lions and will think about the long-term in January.
For now, then, Wood's game is about finding the net, putting himself at the centre of attention and earning a transfer away from the instability of his Albion situation.
He's got the attributes to do exactly that. While still rough round the edges and arguably not the most natural of finishers, Wood is a big, bustling centre forward who can cause no end of problems for opposing defenders. He's always on their toes, always making them earn their money. His physical presence, burly hold-up play and clean striking of the ball were perhaps best exemplified by his very first league goal, a quite brilliant finish for Albion against Doncaster Rovers back in 2009.
His physique is complemented by a tactical matureness that has been reported in particular by supporters of Brighton, where he continued to learn his role as a traditional striker quickly and his awareness and the quality of his footwork mark him out from other young players of his type.
Wood is very much the modern centre forward. With a more ruthless and selfish streak, and plenty of practice in the penalty area, he might just find himself playing for a club that holds his contract by the end of the January transfer window. Now 20, that seems to be a vital next step in the short, turbulent career of a young player with plenty to offer.
“Good prospect. Strong, good aerial presence. Has a good future, but not at Albion where he is probably 7th choice right now.” – Chris Lepkowski (Birmingham Mail)
D A player with a point to prove