by Paul Eddison
GBOLY Ariyibi came through the ranks with Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse – and the Chesterfield winger is confident he can join the trio in the Premier League sooner rather than later.
The 21-year-old American has been in fine form for the Spireites as they look to secure their survival in League One, including scoring the equaliser in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with fellow strugglers Doncaster.
It’s been something of a breakthrough season for Ariyibi, who came through the Southampton academy with Shaw, Chambers and Ward-Prowse.
But, while his contemporaries have enjoyed a smooth transition to top-flight football, Ariyibi has taken a more roundabout path.
Released by Southampton at 18, he joined Leeds for a couple of seasons under Brian McDermott, but he admits it wasn’t the ideal atmosphere for a young flair player to establish himself with the club in constant turmoil.
What followed was a pre-season at Burnley, but Ariyibi made the bold call to prioritise first-team football and head to the Proact Stadium.
Nearly two seasons later, that decision appears to be paying off, as he came into his own under Danny Wilson.
“When Southampton released me, they said I would be one that would come back to haunt them,” said Ariyibi, who came to the UK as a baby before spending time in Nigeria and then returning to these shores.
“I want to prove them right in that sense. It’s important to me to prove a point.
“I still speak to the boys from Southampton, to see how they are getting on. My main focus is to get to the Premier League. I believe in my ability and I think I have what it takes.
“Some players have to take a different path to get to the top. It’s good sometimes to have to fight for everything. It shows I’m able to prove people wrong.
“When I went to Leeds, it probably wasn’t the best time for me to come in, though Brian McDermott really liked me. I think it was a case of the right club but the wrong time.
“Then. I had the pre-season at Burnley, but I came to Chesterfield. I didn’t have much experience of first-team football, so it’s great to have had the chance here.” After being a bit-part player for the Spireites last season, Ariyibi has taken advantage of the departures of Tendayi Darikwa and Sam Clucas at the start of the season.
It’s not been an easy season for Chesterfield, who also lost manager Paul Cook at the end of the last campaign.
Wilson replaced Dean Saunders, who had a short stint in charge. While the chop and change of managers could have affected some players, Ariyibi considers he has benefited from the arrival of the experienced Wilson.
“This season has really given me that confidence and the gaffer has shown a lot of faith in me since he’s come in,” added the youngster.
“As a flair player, I know my role is to score goals and get assists, but he’s also given me some defensive duties, which is new for me.
“It’s been really good, though, because it means that, even if things aren’t quite coming off, I can contribute to the team.
“And it’s only by adding extra parts to your game that you can really improve as a player.”
Ariyibi’s recent run of good form also serves as proof that every cloud has a silver lining.
It was only because he was overlooked for the USA’s Olympic qualifying play-off with Colombia that he was even playing for the Spireites against Port Vale at the start of the month. That was the game which he believes was the turning point.
“I’d played for the USA in the qualifiers but they left me out against Colombia.
“I’m not really sure why,” he added.
“It was disappointing, but I wouldn’t have been there for Chesterfield, so now I guess it’s worked out.
“The Port Vale game was really important for me. We were losing 1-0 and I came on in the second half, got a goal and had a good game. It really went from there.”