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Oladapo Afolayan: How he has thrived at Bolton Wanderers

Despite all of the money flowing around football these days, there is still room for the odd piece of romance in the game despite the over-saturation of information that surrounds it. The fact that we live in what is clearly a well-established information age means that with the presence of Twitter, along with all of the keen amateur scouts and data analysts on there, and the amount of televised football that is available, there are very few surprises out there.

While this is fine and a result of the way that we all consume football today, it just makes it all the more exciting when a genuinely interesting player emerges who has something approaching a non-traditional early route into the game.

In the 2021/22 season, that has been the case with Bolton Wanderers’ wide attacker Oladapo Afolayan. The 24-year-old wide player, who is England-born but also eligible for Nigeria, may be a little older than you might expect when we start to discuss players who are enjoying their breakthrough this term but he very much has broken through as he has been one of the standout players in League One, with a very real chance of playing Premier League football sooner rather than later.

Afolayan, however, has not taken the traditional path to football. He was in the youth system at Chelsea as a child, which suggests that he always had potential, but he left the club when his family moved to Canada where he played in the system of Toronto FC. He ended up, however, moving back to England to attend Loughborough University to study Civil Engineering. While at university, he played for some notable non-league clubs such as Barnet and Tooting & Mitcham United. He eventually signed permanently for Solihull Moors but before long attracted the attention of West Ham United.

After signing for West Ham, he went out on loan moves to Oldham Athletic, Mansfield Town and then Bolton Wanderers before making his move to Bolton permanent prior to the 2021/22 season.

Data Profile

So far this season, we have seen Afolayan play predominantly from the left-hand side of the pitch although in-game, he does show a clear tendency to drift inside and to attack space centrally and in the half-spaces. The data profile above shows the level of performance that we have seen from Afolayan in 2021/22 with all data taken, as always, from Wyscout. The data is shown in two different ways. Firstly, on the left we have a bar chart that shows how Afolayan has played this season when compared to all other wingers in League One. The longer the bar, the higher his percentile data for that specific metric. Next, we have the raw per 90 data to give a little context to the percentile charts.

At this stage of the campaign, Afolayan has seen a lot of usage with 3120 minutes played, and his performance across all three performance areas — attacking, defending and passing/ball progression — is very balanced. He is, however, in my opinion, more effective in the attacking phase of the game.

Here he is averaging 8.71 dribbles per 90 with a success rate of 53.64% along with 0.32 goals per 90 from 0.24 xG per 90 and 3.4 shots per 90.

In short, his data output will have caught the attention of recruitment departments across the country.

Ball carrying

A part of what’s made Afolayan so effective this season for Bolton is his ability to carry the ball and to force opposing players to look to commit to the challenge. He is extremely dynamic in his movement profile with the ability to take the ball and attack the defender down either side. When moving with the ball in space, he opens out and takes the space he is being offered but when moving in tighter spaces, he manipulates the ball and shows exceptional balance to outplay defenders.

While Afolayan is listed as right-footed, he is also capable of performing actions in possession on his left side.

We see an example here not only of Afolayan’s dynamic ability in possession but of his movement and tendencies to drift across the width of the pitch when he has the ball. Here, he carried the ball into the centre and actually ended up drifting across to the right-hand side of the field.

At the point that this image was captured, the opposition side have actually got themselves into a decent position and it looks as though Afolayan will either have to check back to restart the attack or out to the right side.

Instead, he does exactly what he does best and drives forward with the ball before then cutting inside and attacking the space between opposition defenders.

Such is the threat Afolayan carries in the attacking phase, he has started to attract multiple defenders towards him whenever he is in possession. While it is fairly regular to see him doubled-up on by defenders, there have also been times that three players looked to press him into a corner to prevent him from carrying the ball and cutting inside towards the penalty area.

Here, instead of trying to do too much, he instead plays the ball through to the forward who is making a diagonal movement. He then moves inside and collects the second ball while carrying the ball centrally and causing havoc in the final third.

Incisive passing

Throughout this season, Afolayan has made great strides in developing the creative side of his game. As a result of his ability to carry the ball and to dribble in tight areas, he has a lot of ‘gravity’ on the pitch. Gravity, in this sense, is a term that was initially used in basketball to describe the tendency of defensive players to be pulled towards certain players who were especially dangerous in the attacking phase. In other words, a talented attacking player will attract defenders towards him as they worry about double or even triple-teaming him (we have already discussed this above in relation to Afolayan). This tendency then results in space being created elsewhere on the pitch that can be taken advantage of by the attacking players’ teammates.

As a result of the increased gravity that Afolayan is creating he has developed the vision and ability to break a line with a pass to access this space with passes to teammates.

We see an example here of his passing ability as he carries the ball centrally. The midfield is poorly structured and the players in the defensive line are so intent on the ball that they cannot see the run being made on the blindside.

While Afolayan could, if he was greedy, drive forward and take the space himself, he instead recognises that the blindside run is the best option. He plays a line-breaking pass with the perfect weight over a considerable distance and releases the runner into space.

This time, the situation is more crowded but again, Afolayan is carrying the ball in the central areas and, again, the defensive structure of the opposition leaves a lot to be desired. As he carries the ball forward once again there is an off-the-ball run on the blind side of the defensive block and once more, he has the quality to find a through pass that accesses this run and sends his teammate through on goal.


We gave you the per 90 stats earlier on but for those of you that prefer your football data in a more traditional format, he has 13 goals from an xG of 9.43. For a player who is predominantly a wide attacker, a haul of 13 goals at this point in the season is exceptionally good. What is especially interesting about Afolayan, however, is the range of goals that he can score.

When the play is being built-up on the opposite side of the field, he will make incisive runs to attack the far post and he tends to be positioned well to finish in these spaces should the ball be played across goal. He is also capable, though, of the spectacular as he possesses the ability to strike the ball from range with power and accuracy.

Here, we see Afolayan in possession well outside the penalty area. He has several defenders between him and the ball and a limited number of options in terms of playing the ball forward into dangerous areas around the penalty area.

Instead of looking to force a pass, Afolayan has the confidence to striker the ball with power into the far corner of the goal.

A similar situation here, although this time there are runners wide and positioned in the centre should Afolayan choose to look for a passing option. Once again, the defenders have collapsed into a deep defensive shape with other defensive players chasing back. 


Yet again though, Afolayan has the confidence and technique to shoot from range and once again he finds the far corner.


To say that this has been a breakout season for Oladapo Afolayan would be an understatement. His performances have been nothing short of sensational at times. At the time of writing this article, Bolton Wanderers sit in 11th place in the League One table and they must be bracing themselves for serious interest in the wide attacker this summer.

A move to a Championship club will be the very least that he might expect this summer and Premier League clubs will also be tracking his development. I also would not rule out a move to another European league, though Brexit regulations have made that more difficult.