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Semi Ajayi: Who is the former Arsenal product unexpectedly summoned by Gernot Rohr?

02:15 BST 27/08/2018
Semi Ajayi - Rotherham United
The central defender was a surprise inclusion in Rohr’s Super Eagles squad…so what’s to be expected from the defender?

COMMENT    By Seye Omidiora      Follow on Twitter

When Gernot Rohr’s squad was named for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Seychelles next month, eyebrows were raised at the inclusion of the relatively unknown Semi Ajayi.

Born on November 9, 1993, in Crayford, south-east London to Nigerian parents, Oluwasemilogo Ajayi came through the Charlton Athletic Academy before being offered his first professional contract in January 2012.

After one appearance on the bench in the Red Robins’ 2-1 defeat of Blackpool, approximately a year after committing to the club, in January 2013, the central defender departed for Arsenal months later having failed to make a senior appearance.

There had been a short 28-day spell at Dartford sandwiched in-between his time at the aforementioned London sides, and he made three appearances and scored once during his stay in Kent.

Semi joined the Gunners’ Academy in September 2013 having impressed as a trialist with the North London club, and subsequently scored on his Arsenal U-21 debut in a 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers. It was during his time with the side that his ability on the ball became even more recognized. He was described as “calm and composed in possession and adept in the aerial duels" by the British media.

A section of Gooners even named him the new Sol Campbell having seen him play for the youth side a couple of times, owing to his aforementioned qualities.

After two years without a first-team appearance for the Gunners – although he did appear on the bench occasionally during that time – he left for Cardiff City in 2015. He became a regular in the Bluebirds’ Development Squad, but never made a senior appearance for the Welsh side.

There were then loan spells at AFC Wimbledon and Crewe Alexandra which saw him make five and 13 appearances respectively, but it wasn’t until his move to Rotherham United that he finally seemed to be putting down roots at a side.

He arrived at the Millers on loan at the turn of the year in 2017, and made 17 appearances before the end of the season. His move was made permanent last summer, and he went on to feature 39 times last season as Paul Warne’s side secured promotion into the second tier of English football, via the playoffs.

Perhaps it’s the 24-year-old’s form in the previous campaign that has convinced Rohr to take a gamble on the defender who’s previously turned out for the Nigeria U-20 side on three occasions.

While Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong are firmly recognized as the Super Eagles’ first-choice pairing, their replacements in the side have failed to convince, which has probably made the German tactician look the way of Ajayi.

Nevertheless, it’s somewhat bizarre that the Nigeria trainer has elected for a player of Semi’s profile, irrespective of his supposed strengths.  

Ostensibly bordering on comical, this selection had caused a few laughs, but it might be necessary to let things play out before coming to conclusions. Ajayi will certainly hope that he can silence a few critics against the Seychelles.