As Boro announced the £15million signing on a four-year deal from Nottingham Forest, they claimed ‘the Teessiders fought off competition from Premier League clubs to secure the services of the highly-rated 24-year-old.’
Assombalonga was meant to be the man whose goals would fire Boro back to the Premier League. The frontman had scored 30 times in 65 Championship appearances for Forest over three years, while suffering a serious knee injury. His stats were promising yet, on reflection, the sample size was small.
For the money they spent, a club record fee, Boro wanted a proven striker who could score around 20 goals a season. After four years at the Riverside, the 28-year-old didn’t achieve that feat.
In fact, the forward’s figures have gradually deteriorated: 15 Championship goals in the 2017/18 season, 14 in 2018/19, 11 in 2019/20 and just five this campaign.
There were times when the DR Congo international looked like he could be the potent striker Boro thought they were signing – away games at West Brom, Bristol City and QPR spring to mind – yet those moments were too few and far between.
Assombalonga will leave Boro as the club’s top Championship goalscorer of all time, yet with a reputation as someone who didn’t live up to expectations.
As Boro boss Neil Warnock has said, it’s not the striker’s fault he was offered such a lucrative contract and was signed for such a substantial fee.
Still, the frontman was handed enough opportunities to excel at Boro and didn’t take enough of them.
In the end it’s ironic that Assombalonga’s best goalscoring campaigns at the Riverside came when Tony Pulis was in charge – when the Welshman appeared to focus more on chances the striker missed than the ones he scored.
In contrast, Jonathan Woodgate reminded the press at every opportunity that Assombalonga was his No 9, yet, while the 2019/20 season included injury setbacks, the forward’s form dwindled.
Warnock then made Assombalonga club captain last summer – another attempt to get the striker firing. The move backfired as the player endured a disappointing campaign.
Assombalonga may argue that Boro haven’t played to his strengths during his time at the club, yet those strengths haven’t been particularly forthcoming.
He’s not a target man who can win most of his aerial battles or who is comfortable holding the ball up, while his finishing hasn’t consistently matched the standards expected.
Assombalonga scored 11 league goals in 18 league appearances when he first signed for Boro under Garry Monk, while he has the ability to burst away from defenders in the opposition’s penalty area. He hasn’t found himself in those positions often enough this season.
The striker came across as a bubbly and prominent figure at Boro, so it was disappointing to hear Warnock speak about dressing room cliques, while claiming the mood has lifted since Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher departed last week.
Boro no longer have the finances to spend the sort of money they did on Assombalonga four years ago. Their transfer business will have to be far more shrewd in the coming months.