Gboly Ariyibi made an interesting move last summer. After a switch to Nottingham Forest never got him the playing time he needed, the Southampton academy product rejuvenated himself in the SPFL.
Rumours were flying about after his impressive six-month stint on loan at Motherwell from Nottingham Forest. It got people talking about the winger who was once a promising prospect at Southampton and lit up the EFL with dazzling performances at Chesterfield.
A humble young footballer, Ariyibi is now out in Greece with Panetolikos, who just about survived in Greece’s top flight last season after battling the drop. There are few like Ariyibi who have taken that opportunity to play outside of British shores, but It’s now time for him to move forward in Agrinio.
“It’s been up and down, Ariyibi told NTOF. “It was one of those moves that came up last-minute, it took a while to settle in. It’s been a grind all season, we’ve just stayed up. I started making my way into the team around October and had a good spell. Then I was out for six months, came back in June, and tried to find my way in.
“It’s been good to be fair. At the time I wanted something different and I thought it was a good market for me. I’ve always wanted to play abroad and I’ll take a lot of experience from it.
“A lot of homegrown players, we always want to stay in England. There’s so much opportunity out there, moving to Scotland was a big step for me. I thought if I could play in Scotland, which is still far away from me, then I can go elsewhere. We just stayed up so this season is a massive one.”
He’s been on a journey to get to where he is in his career, starting out in the prestigious Southampton academy. He remembers obviously the likes of Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott who have gone on to have careers at the top level after their St Mary’s start.
He also remembers the sheer quality of player that came through alongside him at the club from the age of 10. Almost all of have gone on to have a career in the professional game at some level, with one particular ex-teammate serving as an inspiration for the rest.
“It’s always humbling, they are always producing great young talents,” he said of Southampton. “I came through with Callum Chambers, Harrison Reed, Bevis Mugabi, Sam McQueen, we’ve all gone on to have decent careers. That sets up their philosophy. I was there from 10-18.
“It was touching to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lift the Premier League because when I was U16, he was a first-year scholar. He used to train with us and I remember him training with us, he’s progressed so well. It shows anything is possible because he’s came a long way. You have your highs and lows and he’s an inspiration for all of us.
“I was told two weeks before the season ending I was being released. I managed to get a trial with Brentford but they couldn’t really make decisions. Southampton were very supportive and there for reference. I tried to get as many trials as I could.”
The Forest move
After Southampton he ended up at Leeds, not able to fully break into the Elland Road first-team plans. A move down the EFL food chain is what Ariyibi needed to really kickstart his career and he got that chance at Chesterfield.
Playing the most games he’s every played at one club, a string of consistent performances allowed Nottingham Forest to spot the talent highly rated as a kid at Southampton. They signed him for a pricey six-figure sum but again he was met with adversity.
“I remember I was supposed to go the summer before,” Ariyibi recalled of his Forest move. “I had offers from three Championship clubs but Chesterfield didn’t let me go and then I got my move to Nottingham Forest.
“I never really got an opportunity at Forest. I was a lot more prepared after playing many games in League One before I moved. It was strange and I just wanted to get games after six months of not playing. That’s why the MK Dons loan move came about.
“When you go out on loan you try and play your best and prove people wrong. It’s one of those clubs that have a lot of money, players, aspirations. I was honoured to get the move and to this day I’m humbled by it. I just wanted to play and once I realised I wasn’t getting that opportunity, that’s when I went to play games. I was there for two-and-a-half years, so when the Greek offer came in, it was a no-brainer.”
Big step to Motherwell
Things hadn’t quite worked out for Ariyibi in Nottingham. After the initial six months, he was already out the door and ended up playing away from Forest in 2017/18. For six months the next season, he was stuck playing U23s football. As someone who had displayed so much potential at the senior level, this wasn’t the place for him.
Step forward Motherwell, who managed to give Ariyibi the platform to show what he could do again. It’s a team still close to his heart, one he keeps up to date with. He’ll always be grateful for the opportunity manager Stephen Robinson gave him and the time he spent playing with the Fir Park side’s talented batch of youngsters.
“I still follow Motherwell,” Ariyibi started. “When Chris Long signed up there, I thought that was a great signing. When we were at Northampton, he brought energy and scored goals. It was good to play alongside him.
“I had played in an U23s game and the gaffer and the scouts came to watch that game. From there they got in contact with Forest and my agent and they wanted me to come and play. I looked at the league and the players in the league I knew, because it was a big step, I’d never played out of England.
“I did my research and it just seemed like the right move. Everyone knows Celtic and Rangers but my friends were there.
“Uche Ikpeazu had been there for six months and I speak to him on a daily basis. Emerson Hyndman gave me a bit of information, Aaron Tshibola and then Craig Tanner. I’d never moved from home so I was a bit scared.
“Then I was traveling down, I saw the mountains and then as soon as I moved past there I saw the Scottish flag. I was like, ‘I’m actually moving to another country.’
“Stephen Robinson is a great coach. He brings the best out of players from my experience. I’ve had managers who have been difficult for me but his project and training sessions are good. He was honest with me before I came.
“He brought the best out of me. His sessions are so hard. Tenerife was so hard. I hadn’t played in the league for six months so it was good for me to play every week. I did like the games being more spread out and everywhere is only an hour or two away.
“It’s a good bunch of lads. As a player coming through, I always remember the senior players who helped me and that’s what I tried to implement into them. David Turnbull, Allan Campbell, great players coming through. I’m sure Motherwell will make a lot of money if they end up selling them.
“Turnbull is a fantastic player; I don’t think he loses the ball. He trains hard and the gaffer humbles them. He’s good with the young players.”
Claret and amber return?
Could Ariyibi be one of the next to return to North Lanarkshire in the coming years? He’s got ambitions to go right to the very top, but don’t write off a claret and amber return just yet.
“It could always happen, who knows in football,” the winger said. “I learned a lot in that six months, it was good. I’ve still got a good relationship with the club, you never know. I enjoyed my time there and you see players going back all the time.”
“In my first four months in Greece I had two offers. I want to play in the highest leagues, I’m very ambitious. This season is massive for me to kick on and who knows, I could be at one of the top leagues in Europe. I’m still young and there’s a lot more to come.”