Eligible for 3 national teams, Southampton’s home grown Gboly Ariyibi talks to Sportive23 about football, future plans and more.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being really easy), how hard is it for people to pronounce your name at first sight?
10 being impossible; until they realize the “G” is silent.
Your Twitter bio says you were born in the U.S but something that catches the eye is the fact that you mention that you are of Nigerian heritage. That’s rare – that a player of Nigerian heritage who hasn’t represented the country at any level yet puts that out there. As you also mention in your bio, you were raised in the United Kingdom. How in touch with your Nigerian heritage?
My parents have always encouraged me to appreciate my heritage and they made it an important part of my growing up. For me, embracing my roots and being close with Nigerian culture and tradition is a big part of me, so of course I’d want to include it in my bio. I still go back to Nigeria from time to time when I’m on my holidays if I can. My dad’s family is from Abeokuta, Ogun state & my mum is from Ikorodu, Lagos. They both met through playing table tennis in Nigeria to quite a high standard, so you can say there is quite a strong sporting history in my family!
I love our Nigerian food…Jollof rice is by far my favourite dish! I understand the Yoruba language very well as this is what we speak at home, especially with my Grandma, who does not understand English very well. I’m also a big fan of the afrobeats music scene right now, it’s great to hear so many Nigerian artists coming through on the international scene. All these things help to keep me in touch with my Nigerian heritage.
In the space of a year, you were released by both Southampton and Leeds respectively. You were only 18/19 at the time. How did you handle that and in what ways did it affect you? How were you able to overcome those circumstances?
Yes; it was a very difficult time for me when I experienced my first release at Southampton but thankfully I had my family and the right support around me. More importantly, I knew I had the ability and believed that I’d be able to make a good impression somewhere else. However, after I had that experience at Southampton I was able to overcome my release at Leeds a lot easier and quicker. I think it has turned out in a much more positive way and has made me a lot stronger, going into my career with setbacks can only benefit you in the long run.
About 3 years ago, you expressed a willingness to represent the U.S at youth level but at the senior level comes what most would consider something of a difficult situation. You’re eligible to play for Nigeria, the U.S, and England. If all three come calling, who would you rather represent at senior level?
Yes I thought I deserved a chance and thought it would be important for my voice to be heard. It is very hard as I have strong connections with all three, I think you just need to look at your options and then the likelihood of breaking into their senior squads, being appreciated also goes a long way too. I think coming from a Nigerian background it would bring me closer to my African roots and playing for the Super Eagles is something I’ve always wanted to do. However I also lived in England near enough all my life and I was born in the U.S so it still wouldn’t be the easiest decision to make.
What do you think you can bring to any of the national teams that you are eligible to play for that they don’t already have?
I am an out and out winger that can beat a man. I think I can add lots of pace, flair and good delivery which will excite fans. I am also a player that is capable of adding lots of goals to my game.
Being as young as you are, how hard is it to balance your career with your private life; you know, doing whatever it is that 21-year-olds do?
I think the most important thing is to look after your body and prepare well, as a young footballer there’s always more to learn in the game and it’s important to listen to the senior players and coaches around you. It’s always good to have your friends and family around you too helping and supporting you, I think that’s the sort of balance you need.
What kind of advice can you give up-and-coming players such as yourself?
My advice as a flair player is to be confident as you can be even when things aren’t going your way and believe in your ability. As a young player trying to become a professional you need to be dedicated. They say practice makes perfect so if it means you need to sacrifice things that you’d rather do with friends then that’s what will make the difference. There’s always more things you can achieve as a footballer so don’t ever be satisfied. It’s important to never give up on your dreams even if people tell you that you can’t make it as a footballer. If a team does not appreciate you then another one will. I’ve learnt that football is about a lot of opinions and sometimes a setback can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
What formation do you think you thrive in the most?
I like the 4-2-3-1 formation because it’s what I have become use to playing and feel like it is a very balanced formation.
Are there any younger players playing professionally right now that inspire and motivate you?
I like Riyad Mahrez a lot and still think he’s relatively young in football at 25, he has come up from the lower leagues to the premiership and has had a fantastic season, he’s also a flair player and his journey motives me.
Now that the 2015/2016 season is over, what are your goals for the upcoming season?
It’s been a tough season but I knew we had enough in us to avoid relegation. I am very ambitious and playing at a higher level is something any player should want to do but I’ve never really set goals; although I think being a starter and playing every week is a must, I’d like to add more goals and assists too!
Has playing in the MLS ever crossed your mind? If yes, how soon do you see yourself playing there?
Yes; being born in the US also gives me this option for the future or towards the end of my career. The MLS is growing and is only going to get better so that would be something I’d be interested in for sure.
What does your pre-game playlist look like?
It’s quite random but I love to listen to my Afrobeat and Hip-Hop or rap songs.
What activities do you busy yourself with when you’re not playing football?
Most of the time I’m getting rest or playing FIFA but I also like to play table tennis.
How good are you on FIFA and what has your worst thrashing/best win been?
I’d say I’m quite good but my worst thrashing was probably 7-1
Two years ago, you reportedly turned down the chance to join then Premier League team, Burnley. Are there any specific reasons why you decided against signing for them? Did you ever regret that decision and if the same kind of opportunity presented itself at the end of the season, would your answer be the same?
I thought at that age the best thing was to get more game time and experience, especially just coming from my first professional season at Leeds and Tranmere it was important for me to play games and Chesterfield seemed like they had my best interest. I think now my situation is different but it all depends on whether the move is right for me.
For the second time in a row, the USMNT have failed to qualify for the Olympics after a 2-1 home loss to Colombia. Do you think the result would have been different if you had been included in the roster?
I would like to think I could have made a difference and contributed as much as I could but it is a team game and it’s a big shame not to qualify.
Where do you see yourself by the next World Cup?
Playing at a higher level and getting a senior call up to go to the World Cup.