Transfer Talk: Top flight beckons for Akpom after best season of his career
Anybody who claims they saw Chuba Akpom's rise to the top of the Championship goalscoring charts coming is stretching the truth.
Akpom, 27, had never scored more than eight league goals in one campaign and his career seemed to be on the drift after he returned to Middlesbrough from a loan spell at PAOK last term with a record of 11 strikes in 52 appearances.
But the appointment of Michael Carrick as Boro boss has taken the striker's game to a level that did not seem possible and his 28 goals this season put him seven clear of second-best Viktor Gyokeres.
With just one year left on his deal with the Teessiders, who have missed out on promotion, it is inevitable that Premier League clubs will have taken note.
Such is the astronomical improvement in Akpom's performances that admirers will question whether this season was an anomaly.
The Arsenal academy graduate scored three goals in 63 league appearances during five League One and Championship loan spells between 2013 and 2017.
And having enjoyed a little more success at Belgian outfit Sint-Truidense and PAOK, his £2.75million transfer to Middlesbrough seemed doomed to fail until this campaign.
Signing Akpom could be a masterstroke — or a trap.
Rejuvenating Akpom is perhaps the biggest success story of Carrick's impressive first season in management.
The league's top scorer netted in all of his new manager's first four matches in charge in October and November, gaining momentum that would ultimately see him named Championship Player of the Season.
In an ultra-attacking team, Akpom soon became one of a few Middlesbrough forwards that defenders found difficult to control.
Akpom said: "He is the manager I've been dreaming of my whole career.
"I give 110% whenever I am on the pitch for him because he has showed so much trust and confidence in me."
More than goals
The appeal of Akpom extends far beyond his penalty-box heroics.
The ex-Gunner has spent much of this season playing a withdrawn role behind Matt Crooks or Cameron Archer, with the timing of his runs from that position the key to maintaining his scoring rate.
His hold-up play and ball retention skills have been cleverly used by his manager in that deeper position, too.
He ranks in the top 25 for dribbles per game in the division, the second-highest in the Boro squad.
Carrick said: "How well he takes the ball, how fluid he is moving with the ball in a bit of space, I just wanted to free him up a bit. I think it suits him."
A crack at the Premier League while he is enjoying the form of his career could be enough to persuade Akpom to abandon Carrick's project at the Riverside.
Top-tier suitors have reportedly been quoted £15m to sign the forward this summer, a relatively low fee for a player who has dominated the second tier.
Everton and Leeds are credited with an interest but a rumoured move to Crystal Palace could make the most sense, considering the success that Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise have enjoyed there since signing from Championship clubs.
None of the Eagles' strikers have scored more than five league goals this season, while the possible departure of Wilfried Zaha could open up a vacancy in their attacking ranks.