Semi Ajayi: Another Shattered Dream

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For Semi Ajayi, it was a shattered dream when Super Eagles gaffer, Gernot Rohr did not look in his direction during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but when he made his debut for the team in last year’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles he felt play in the Egypt showpiece would be a consolation. It was however not to be as he was dropped from the final list on the eve of the team’s departure to the land of the Pharoahs

Semi Ayayi was among the four new players handed invitation by Rohr for the 2019 AFCON qualifier against the Pirates of Seychelles last year September and he was one of the two players that had the chance to play and ever since the 25-year old has been dreaming of appearing at the biennial tournament.

Reacting to his exclusion from Rohr’s final selection for the competition later this month in Egypt, the Rotherham United midfielder expressed his disappointed to have missed out of Nigeria’s final squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations but said he would be wishing the team a good outing in Egypt.

The former Arsenal youngster and Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho were the two players dropped from the provisional squad, as the Rohr confirmed their final 23-man squad on Sunday. Despite participating in the preliminary training sessions in Asaba, Ajayi was not in action during last Saturday’s goalless draw against Zimbabwe at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, but has accepted the decision in good faith by pledging his support for the rest of the team as they aim for the AFCON title in Egypt.

“Wishing my brothers the best of luck at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations,” Ajayi wrote on Instagram.

“It’s been a privilege to have been part of this squad and as much as I’m gutted that I can’t make it I wish everyone linked with the Super Eagles the very best of luck this summer. I will be supporting the team until the end. Go and make Nigeria proud my brothers.

In a chat with former Nigerian international, Tajudeen Disu, he said it came to him as a little surprise that Ajayi was dropped alongside Iheanacho

When he featured in the AFCON qualifier against Seychelles there was very little time to assess him,” Disu noted.

He however said the time Ajayi featured against Seychelles was not really enough to assess him.

“You cannot really assess a player that played for less than 20 minutes, however, the little time he was on the field he showed confidence and defended well. But the quality of opposition from the Pirates is not enough to measure a player. However, the fact that he was even supporting the attack is a sign of a good defender,” the former Abiola Babes Captain told THISDAY.

For 25-year-old Ajayi, he feels ‘honoured’ after making his international debut for his country in their 3-0 win over Seychelles, in spite of not making the final list to Egypt.

The Rotherham United defender was introduced for injured right-back Chidozie Awaziem in the 73rd minute of the encounter and put in a decent showing to help the Super Eagles see out a comfortable victory.

“It was an honour to make my international debut today. Humbled to finally represent my country at the highest level and even more grateful to mark it with a win and clean sheet. Thank you God,” Ajayi had tweeted.

“It was so exciting and an honour to represent my country. It was a very proud day for me. The Cup of Nations qualifier is the perfect stage for my Super Eagles debut,” Ajayi had said.

He added: “I’m just delighted to be out here because it’s such an honour to be called-up to represent your country. It will be a different experience and one that can only make me better as a player.”

The former Arsenal player said that his club performance would earn him more call ups, but it was not to be. Though he went on to make five appearance for the Super Eagles and 46 for his club.

Ajayi indeed attracted most Nigerian fans’ sympathy following his impressive form for the Championship club but there have equally been those questioning who he could have replaced. Perhaps had inspirational captain John Mikel Obi not made a return to the national team, maybe by now, we could have had the versatile Ajayi making the final cut.

There were discerning voices who wondered why Rohr was not bold enough to drop Leon Balogun, having last played for his club in early February, but feelers close to the team was that the coach was ready to let the defender prove his fitness which was why Rohr decided to play the centre back for 90 minutes against Zimbabwe.

“As long as I keep performing for my club I hope to get more call ups. At Rotherham United we are taking it game by game and want to stay up. We will try and continue to stabilise in the English Championship,” he concluded.

Born to Nigerian parents, Ajayi began his football career as a youth product of the Charlton Athleti academy. After progressing through the Charlton Athletic ranks, he was offered his first professional contract in January 2012.

In November 2012, Ajayi joined Dartford on a short-term loan for 28 days. He played three games and scored one goal before returning to his parent club in late-December.

After returning to Charlton Athletic, Ajayi played for the reserve side for the rest of the season and helped win the Professional Development League 2.

Shortly before he was due to make his debut for the Charlton first team, Ajayi caught the eye of Premier League side, Arsenal and he joined the Arsenal Academy on a two-year deal after impressing as a trialist with the club in September 2013.

In 2015, Ajayi joined Championship side, Cardiff City on loan until the end of the 2014–2015 season but did not feature for the first team. At the end of the season, he however joined Cardiff on a two-year permanent deal following the end of his contract at Arsenal.

In 2017, Ajayi signed a loan deal until the end of the 2016–17 season with fellow Championship strugglers, Rothertham United and made his debut the following day and ever since he has been solid for his team.