A product of the highly-regarded Southampton academy, Gboly Ariyibi, has dreams of returning to the top of English football. Here he lifts the lid on his time with Saints, Leeds United and Chesterfield FC.
Gboly Ariyibi has set his sights high.
The young Spireite, just turned 21, has seen a lot over the years; he’s lived on three continents, been out of contract twice but his one goal has remained the same - to ply his trade in the Premier League.
Born in Viginia, USA, his family moved to England when he was just two-months-old. Their stay in London was short, however, and after a couple of years the Ariyibi’s were moving once more, this time to Nigeria.
Missing England, they returned, and settled in Oxford where a young Gboly would begin his journey to a career in professional football. He signed up for his local side Quarry Rovers but that too wouldn’t last.
The flying winger stood out from the rest and it wasn’t too long before scouts for some of the country’s biggest clubs came calling. Southampton, with a rich academy heritage, won the race.
It’s a time he remembers fondly, coming through the St Mary’s youth set up alongside the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers, who have all gone on to compete at the highest level.
There would be many more who have gone on to forge a career in the game and Ariyibi, who was released by Southampton in 2013 after eight years with the club, is determined to make the most of it.
He said: “Southampton are known for their academy and bringing young players through, probably one of the top ones in the country. It was a good experience.
“I think they have a good philosophy, which they call the Southampton way, it starts from youth and the education you get there to getting all the right training.”
It has not been an easy road for Aryibi.
After his Saints release, he struggled initially to find a new home despite several trials. In an effort to maintain his fitness he played for a club in London under the UK Football Finder FC banner.
It paid off.
Leeds United, under then manager Brian McDermott, saw his potential.
He would make his professional league debut on December 29, 2013, in a 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest. A home game against Blackburn Rovers followed before he was sent out on loan at League One side Tranmere Rovers.
An ankle injury coupled with a change of personnel at Leeds meant he found himself without a club once more. His wait wasn’t long as Chesterfield were keen to bring in and beat Premier League new boys Burnley to the punch.
“He has got the potential to go on and do really well. I’m sure our supporters will view him as a very exciting young talent,” said Spireites boss Paul Cook at the time.
Looking back, Ariyibi said: “I think he saw the potential I had and what I could bring to the team. I feel like I should have had more game time with him but he was different to Brian McDermott and I learned a lot from him. He’s a good manager.”
Ariyibi had to bide his time in a Chesterfield side brimming with confidence and momentum after securing the League Two title months earlier. His chance came in the JP Trophy at Scunthorpe United in September 2014.
Experienced campaigners like Gary Roberts helped Ariyibi settle and following a run of games he got his first goal, at home to Coventry City. A defeat meant it wasn’t a goal he could celebrate to the fullest.
His development over the season was rewarded with a substitutes’ appearance in the second leg of the play-off semi-final away at Preston North End and an atmosphere he is unlikely to forget in a hurry.
It would prove to be the end of the road for Cook and Chesterfield as the manager left for Portsmouth and a handful of key players would follow out of the exit door in a summer of change at the Proact Stadium.
Ariyibi got on well with Cook’s successor, Dean Saunders,
“I think he was good for me, a good manager, it’s not easy to come in to a new team, especially given that a lot of players had left, but he started me first game of the season and there’s nothing better than that,” said Ariyibi.
His progression brought about an under-23 call up for the USA for fixtures against England and Qatar, who he would score a volley to open his international account against.
His performances in those two games led to an inclusion in the squad for the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament where again he performed to a high level assisting two goals in a 4-0 victory over Panama.
“When I get going and I’m fully confident I think I could get in to the senior squad,” said Ariyibi. “I can see the US challenging for World Cups in 20 years.
“When you go over there you can see how much it’s growing. The MLS is like the Premier League. It’s so big. It’s not as competitive but it’s a good environment to be in and they’ve got some good players as well.”
He doesn’t rule out the possibility of going over there at some stage in his career but as he was shining for the USA Chesterfield were struggling. A 4-0 defeat at home to Swindon brought the curtain down on Saunders’ time in charge.
Mark Smith held the reins for a while before Danny Wilson was named manager on Christmas Eve. Ariyibi said Wilson “lifted the players” and that the thrashing of Shrewsbury Town was “a high” for the whole club.
He, arguably, put in his best performance in a Spireites shirt to date against Rochdale in an unforgettable afternoon for the winger, who had started it so brightly against an unsuspecting left-back.
Ariyibi was flying and it was reflected in his marker being substituted after 30 minutes. The game wouldn’t be remembered just for that, however, as Ariyibi was booked twice for simulation and sent off.
He felt the bookings were unjust and while television replays might strengthen his argument he chalks the experience up to another one of life’s lessons. There is a stealy streak in Ariyibi’s character.
“The ones that go through the harshest of times can’t always come back and haunt people that didn’t believe in them so, for me, my aspiration is to get to the Premier League and I know I’m capable,” he added.
He knows the climb to the top isn’t an easy one but he is determined to reach the summit.