Despite missing out on playing in the Premier League with Arsenal, Semi Ajayi was always confident he would make it one day.
The 26-year-old Nigeria defender’s journey to the Premier League instead saw him dropping to the lower leagues to play regular football. Now though he is preparing for life in the English top flight with newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. “Always believe in your own ability,” he told BBC Sport. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t make it or that your dreams are too big. “Look at me I was in League One just 18 months ago and now I am getting ready to play in the Premier League.” West Brom earned their promotion by finishing as runners-up in the Championship and begin their Premier League campaign on Sunday against visiting Leicester City. London-born Ajayi began his youth career at Charlton Athletic before signing a contract with the senior team and being loaned to non-league Dartford for a season. At the age of 20 he moved to Arsenal and despite playing in several friendlies for them and even being named on the substitutes bench for several Premier League games he never made the breakthrough. Instead was loaned to Cardiff City, who made his move permanent in 2015 – however he was again sent out on loan, this time to AFC Wimbledon then Crewe Alexandra. A third temporary move to Rotherham in League One ended up being the turning point for Ajayi as he not only secured a permanent move to the club but was impressive enough for West Brom to sign him. Last season as West Brom earned promotion back to the Premier League, Ajayi made 43 league appearances and scored five goals. He believes that his time playing at different levels has helped rather than hindered his career. “Experiencing different leagues and international football holds you in good stead and you always have to believe in your own ability,” he explained. Ajayi has 10 caps for Nigeria and just missed out on the final Super Eagles squad for last year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. “I was gutted (to miss out) but I wished the boys all the best and I didn’t take it personally,” he said. “I knew I just had to come back and show what I’m about.” He is still dreaming of success with Nigeria – and has two targets in mind. “Definitely win Afcon – that would be amazing for Nigeria – and play at a World Cup and win that as well – why not?” he enthused. As for his first season in the Premier League he is also determined to make an impact with West Brom. “We are not here to make up the numbers, we are here to compete and show everyone how good we are,” he insisted. “Underestimate us at your peril. We’ve got a good side and hungry individuals who are looking to make a name for themselves at this level, including me.”
Semi Ajayi was an unused Arsenal substitute for several Premier League matches.