“My journey hasn’t been straightforward,” admits Jacob Wakeling.
At 21, most footballers are finding their way in the game – and the Swindon striker is no exception in that regard.
It is just that he had already been released from an academy, dropped into non-league, signed for a Premier League club, been sent out on loan and then been released again before he signed for the Robins last summer.
Needless to say, he is more level-headed than many of the same age as a result.
The story of his rise begins in the summer of 2020, when he was released by West Brom as an 18-year-old and subsequently picked up by Southern League Premier Division Central side Alvechurch – who reached the FA Cup second round earlier this season.
With raw pace, an eye for goal and no doubt a point to prove, naturally, it was not long before eyes from teams higher up the pyramid were fixated on the teenager’s development.
“When I started playing for Alvechurch, I had no intention to push on to start with, it was just about getting back to playing regular football and enjoying myself again,” Wakeling explains to Sky Sports.
Jacob Wakeling’s whirlwind rise
- June 2020 – Released by West Brom
- August 2020 – Starts season with non-league Alvechurch
- December 2020 – Signs for Leicester following trial period
- January 2022 – Handed EFL debut during loan at Barrow
- June 2022 – Released by Leicester
- July 2022 – Signs one-year deal at Swindon following trial period
- August 2022 – Scores first professional goal
- September 2022 – Signs new deal until 2026 at Swindon
“When I started doing well and scoring goals, a few clubs in the National League were interested and that’s when I really started to want to move up the leagues. I had the chance to go National League, but I believed I could play higher than that.
“I always believed in myself – I think that’s what you’ve got to do as a footballer, even when things aren’t going well – and I was offered a trial at Leicester.”
The trial went swimmingly and, before 2020 was out, Wakeling had signed a deal to keep him at the King Power for just over 18 months.
It was the dream scenario. And one the frontman likely thought might never happen, particularly as, in a tweet after the move was confirmed, he thanked Alvechurch chairman Richard Thorndike for “believing in me when no one else did.”
“Leicester was a really good time,” Wakeling continues. “I have a lot of great memories and I worked with some great coaches who taught me a lot and really helped me.
“It was a crazy period – within a year, I had gone from training at a park to training at a £100m training ground with the Leicester first team and having the chance to speak to Brendan Rodgers. I had to pinch myself at times.
“When I was at West Brom, a lot of the coaches said I was like a little Jamie Vardy. I’ve had a similar route to him, dropping into non-league and then coming back up. I don’t think he even knew my name, though, if I’m honest! I liked to watch him train, though, because I’ve always based my game on his.”
Wakeling made three appearances for the Foxes U21 side in the Papa Johns Trophy across 2020/21 and 2021/22, scoring twice, and was then farmed out on loan to Barrow in January 2022. “That didn’t work out, but I didn’t let it get me down,” he says.
Seeing no way through to the first team for Wakeling, Leicester released him last summer and, within a month, he had signed a one-year deal at Swindon.
“I knew there was interest [from Swindon] in a loan move from the previous summer, but that didn’t happen,” he explains.
“There was still interest last summer and, when everything was done and sorted at Leicester, I had the chance to sign here- and it was a no-brainer for me. It was a massive opportunity for me to showcase what I can do at this level, for a big club at this level.
“Not a lot of people can say they play regular League Two football at my age. I’ve played with a lot of boys who were amazing at youth level, but haven’t been cut out for professional level and I want to show that I can compete at this level, compete with the physicality and score goals.
“I had a point to prove when I signed here because there were a lot of people saying I wasn’t good enough and that drove me on and gave me extra motivation.”
Wakeling racked up four goals and three assists in his first 11 league outings and, at the end of September, Swindon tied him down, realising the potential of the talent they had on their hands.
He admits signing a new deal until 2026 was another decision that took little deliberation: “I want to repay the club for putting their faith in me.”
He acknowledges the fact his attacking output has dropped off since he burst onto the scene, but for a young man in his first full season in the EFL, seven goals and five assists is absolutely not to be sniffed at.
Promotion is the aim from here for 11th-placed Swindon – “It’s what the fans deserve. This club shouldn’t be in League Two.”
But Wakeling is also using the remain months of the season to continue his development and learn from Town head coach Jody Morris, who has previous worked in the Premier League as Frank Lampard’s assistant.
“It’s another really good experience for me. You don’t really get many chances to be coached by a person like him who has played at a really high level and coached players in the Premier League and the Championship.
“He knows what he’s talking about, so it’s just a case of learning from him and taking everything that he says on board because he’s been there and done it.”
And that means learning his trade by any means necessary.
“My preferred position is as a No 9, on my own or in a two, but I’ve played all over this season – left, right and I’ve even recently had a little stint at left wing-back as well! It’s a learning experience for me, playing in different positions and adapting, because that’s what you’ve got to do as a professional footballer.
“The gaffer is asking me to do a job for the team and I can’t sulk about it because it’s a team sport and no all about me. I have to try and do my best in any position he asks me to play.”
With a mature attitude like, it seems this young striker has a bright future in the game.