Towering West Brom defender, Semi Ajayi, has lifted the lid on why he left Arsenal for Cardiff City after just two seasons with the North London club in 2015, citing search for first-team football as reason for his departure.
Ajayi, who spent a season at Charlton Athletic before joining the Gunners, said he was spotted by Arsenal while playing for Nigeria at the U-21 Toulon tournament in France in 2013.
He added that he joined the London giants because of the quality of the Arsenal academy.
But the Nigeria international was forced to quit Arsenal after he failed to break into the first team, as the Gunners former manager, Arsene Wenger, couldn’t guarantee him a place in the starting 11.
“In fact, I got close to the first team. At one stage, I was first understudy behind Mertesacker and Koscielny but they then bought Gabriel Paulista in January,” Ajayi told the club’s website.
“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.”
When asked if his allegiance was always with Nigeria or England, the 26-year-old responded,
“The decision was made a long time ago. I decided to play for the (Nigerian) U-20s when I was 19 and the goal was always to play for the first team,” he said.
“As a youngster, we would go there (Nigeria) every two years to visit my mum and dad’s families. It was nice to meet my grandparents and all my cousins. It’s a really nice country; mum’s family is in Lagos.”
Ajayi made his senior debut for Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles in 2018.