THE international break proved to be a momentous time for Chuba Akpom.
Not only did the striker, on loan from Arsenal at Hull City, leave his teens behind during a week or so away from East Yorkshire, but he also scored on his debut for England Under-21s.
No wonder, therefore, the 20-year-old is itching to be part of the Tigers side that takes on Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough this lunchtime in front of the live Sky cameras.
“It has been a massive week for me,” said Akpom yesterday morning when speaking to The Yorkshire Post at the club’s Cottingham training ground.
“To make my debut for the Under-21s and score in a win left me buzzing, and feeling really confident.
“Hopefully, I can take that mentality into the next few games for Hull. I haven’t scored for Hull in a while and I want that to change.”
Akpom clearly enjoys a debut, the then teenager having netted for Hull in the opening-day victory at home to Huddersfield Town.
He followed that by scoring again three days later against Accrington Stanley in the Capital One Cup, but then had to wait until last Tuesday for his third goal of the season.
It was a back-post tap-in that rounded off a 3-0 victory for Gareth Southgate’s men over Kazakhstan at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena and one that ensured Akpom was rewarded for what had been a fine display.
So impressive was the Hull loanee, in fact, that Southgate tipped him to have a bright future in the game.
Akpom, a regular goalscorer for the Three Lions at Under-16, Under-17s, Under-19s and under-20s, is hoping to have done enough to earn another call-up next month when the European Championships qualifiers resume for the Under-21s.
In time, the Arsenal striker also hopes to force his way into the reckoning with the senior side – even if that may be some way off yet.
“There is a buzz about playing for England,” said the striker, who is hoping to start at Hillsborough today after being on the bench in the 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest that preceded the break.
“I played through to the Under-20s for most of the age groups so to make it to the Under-21s was a massive achievement, one I had been waiting for for quite a few years.
“I had watched so many quality players play for the Under-21s and thought, ‘Can I make that step up?’ I have made that now and the next step, for me, is to make it into the senior squad.
“My attitude is to always push myself on, never be satisfied with what I have got or done. And the good thing is there seems to be a pathway to the senior team.
“I have watched the Under-21s for the last few years and seen how many have progressed into the first-team squad.
“Now, I see so many senior players from that group and that gives you hope.
“It is all about taking opportunities. They did that with their opportunities,.
“Hopefully, it will be me making that step one day. I don’t have a target in terms of when it might happen.
“Everything happens when it is meant to, you can’t rush it.
“When I am ready, I will hopefully get picked. But to do so I have to work hard and produce on the pitch.”
For now, Akpom’s focus is solely on Hull and a hectic programme of games.
Thanks to last month’s Capital One Cup victory over Swansea City, the Tigers have seven games in the next three weeks before the Championship again takes a break for international fixtures.
“I am enjoying it at Hull,” he added. “Everyone is experienced and they have all been helping me, as I am the youngest in the squad. I take all that advice on board.
“The gaffer is always teaching me how to become a better player.
“I do feel to be getting better and, hopefully, the goal for the Under-21s can set me on a run.
“When you don’t score for a bit it can play on the mind, though you shouldn’t really allow it to do so.
“You have to go into games thinking, ‘How can I help my team get the three points?’
“Thankfully, Hull have been getting those points and that is the main thing. But it would be nice to contribute with goals as well.
“That goal for the Under-21s has done wonders for my confidence.
“I love scoring goals and have been practising every day in training different ways to score.
“If I keep working hard and getting in the right spots, I should score. That is what I am going to do. Against Kazakhstan, I hit the post but kept going and eventually got the goal.
“Stayed focused and I got there in the end. The same will happen with Hull.”
Should Akpom break his goal drought for Hull today against Wednesday, it would be a belated present to mark his recent 20th birthday. “I was 20 on the ninth so was away with England,” he said with a smile.
“As you get older, the birthdays are not something you celebrate as much.
“So, I just chilled in the hotel with a few of the boys. Nothing special, really. Just trained and chilled.
“I was preparing for the game so it was great that things worked out so well.”