Ajayi: West Bromwich Albion and Super Eagles star sets long-term career targets

The Nigeria international has enumerated what he hopes to achieve before his retirement from professional football

West Bromwich Albion centre-back Semi Ajayi is hoping to help the Baggies secure promotion to the Premier League as part of his long-term career target.

The 26-year-old is also looking to play at the World Cup and winning the Africa Cup of Nations after narrowly missing out on the 2019 edition in Egypt, having made the Super Eagles preliminary squad to the Afcon tournament.   

“Well, I would say, play in the Premier League consistently and that’s obviously something I would like to do here with Albion,” he told the club website when asked of his target.

“That would be in there. And definitely play in the World Cup. A third one? Win the African Nations. All three would be excellent.”

Ajayi started his quest to become a professional footballer by joining Charlton Athletic after a successful trial.

The defender did enough to progress into the club’s academy after convincing showings at their development school but failed to get into the first team which forced him to leave the Valley outfit.

“Charlton was really good for me. I had been going there since I was nine. But we were in half-term and I think mum just wanted me and Fikayo out of the house so we went off to one of those football camps they were running,” he continued.

“It was nothing too serious but I think I got recommended from that. My dad came to get me one day and didn’t tell me where I was going just that I would need my boots. I didn’t know it but he was taking me for a trial and I did well enough to get into their development school and then their Academy.

“I got a great football education at Charlton but the one thing that I couldn’t see was a pathway to the first team.”

In his quest to realise his first-team action, Ajayi teamed up with Arsenal and then Cardiff City before finally realising his desire at Rotherham United, where he made 81 Championship appearances before leaving to join West Brom last summer.

“I couldn’t see a way through at Charlton at the time and the quality of the Arsenal academy – the coaches, the facilities – made that impossible to turn down. In fact, I got close to the first team,” he added.

“At one stage I was the first understudy behind Mertesacker and Koscielny but they then bought Gabriel Paulista in January. Arsene Wenger was very honest with me in that he said he wanted me to stay and develop but he couldn’t offer me first-team football at that point.

“I went to Cardiff under Russell Slade where I thought I was going to play but he said afterwards that I was a development project… it annoyed me a bit because I was looking for the one thing I needed, first-team football, and I thought I was going to get it there.  

“So I went out on loan to AFC Wimbledon – where I broke my nose and got concussed in my third game. I don’t remember a thing about it to this day and that’s despite seeing the video playback. I don’t know how it happened.

“But Rotherham was the first place I found a home in football. At other places, I always felt I was playing for my parent club and not the team I was in. At Rotherham, I really settled down and became a main part of the team and at last, I got that regular first-team football I knew I needed.”

Ajayi has been key to the success of West Brom in this campaign, featuring in 35 games to help them to their current second spot in the Championship table, with only one point behind leaders Leeds United.