Ayoub Assal has been named the EFL Young Player of the Month for April.
Our attacking talent scored three goals and claimed two assists last month, playing a pivotal part in retaining our League One status status.
“It’s a great achievement to be recognised,” Ayoub said. “I’m really happy to have won the award. I think it’s a great compliment to me and all the hard work I’ve put in recently to make the first team and it’s nice to receive some praise for my performances.”
Though picked up at U-9 level by Millwall, Ayoub decided at the age of 12 to make the switch from the Den to Wimbledon, believing that he would get more chance here to play first-team football. A brave call at such a young age, but one that has paid dividends. After progressing through our academy, Ayoub struck a vital late equaliser on his league debut at Shrewsbury.
“It’s the dream of every boy to play for a club from such a young age and then make their debut for that club,” recalling his memorable substitute appearance at Shrewsbury. “I remember every single touch.
“We were 1-0 down and I remember getting the call to go and warm up, I was ready to come on. It happened so quickly after that. I actually think the goal was my first touch, I remember the ball coming across to me and I just put my foot through it. Seeing it hit the back of the net to make it 1-1 was an amazing feeling, I’ll definitely never forget it.
“It (coming through the ranks) was a journey and a process that took some time with a lot of hard work and sacrifices, but it happened and that’s the most important thing.”
It’s a moment he hasn’t looked back from. In the following games, he went on to net four goals in 14 more appearances, emerging as a key figure in our resurgent run to safety. Four successive wins were achieved in April - the first time we had achieved the feat as a League One club.
“Survival was key for the whole club. We want to be in League One and it was always our aim to survive. The manager is someone I’ve worked with before in the U18s, so ensuring survival under him and for him made it all the more special.
“Robbo played such a big part for me from the moment he stepped in. He’s helped me so much throughout my career so far, but more than anything it’s the fact that he’s given me an opportunity. As young players we need a chance, then once you’re given that chance it’s up to you to take it. That’s what I needed and that’s what the manager gave me.
“After my debut, I remember him saying to me that I had to kick on, that I hadn’t achieved anything yet. He kept my feet on the ground and told me that the hard work needed to continue. I appreciated that and I agreed with it.”
Upon taking the reins, Robbo not only steadied the Dons ship, but got his team playing a ruthless style of football that impressed all those watching from afar.
“For me, the most important thing is that, when he came in we were in a real relegation battle, but we never stopped playing football. We didn’t change how we wanted to play to get results, we played football in our style and that was important.
“The team played such a big part in my performances that month as well. Everyone welcomed me with open arms from the minute I stepped up into the first team. They let me express myself on the pitch, which helped me perform at my best because I was comfortable on the ball. They let me come on, be a part of the team and do my thing.”
The teenager qualifies for Morocco through his parents, who were born there and earlier this year he was called up for a Morocco training camp at U21 level, an experience he’ll not only remember for a long time, but one that has fuelled his international aspirations.
“It was a great experience for me. The style of play is totally different to here in England, it’s not as fast-paced but it was a great experience because I was playing with people who are playing for clubs all over the world. It was a really good learning curve for me. International football is a big thing for any footballer so that’s definitely something I’m aiming to do more of as I get more experience.”
So with Wimbledon securing League One status for next season, what’s next for the youngster?
“I have a target for next season,” he admitted. “But I’m not going to say the number, I’ve got to back myself to do well. More importantly I want to play a part in the team and put in big performances week in, week out to help the team. We need to be pushing as high up in the table as possible next season.”