Semi Ajayi, by investing in Wes Brom’s survival venture with a glorious headed goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers this weekend, did a yeoman’s job at front end of the pitch but at the back, his game continues to be unworthy of making headlines. The primary responsibility of a centre defender is to prevent goals from being scored. Super Eagles Semi Ajayi is scoring goals but is he doing enough when it comes to his core duty as a centre back? On 27 December 2020, Ajayi could have been a top contender for man of the match having scored what is fast becoming a trademark header against the hottest team in the English Premier League: Liverpool. However, in what is also becoming characteristic, it was his defensive display (his primary calling) that let him down. Inadequate sense of place allowed him to lose Sadio Mane whose goal rubbed Wes Brom of vital 2 points at a time they could ill-afford slip-ups at the back. Against Blackpool in an FA Cup competition on 9 January, Ajayi’s sloppiness in despatching his core duties saw him earning low post-match ratings despite scoring another fire in the hole header. This weekend, Wes Brom recorded their first win in the league under Sam Allardyce with Ajayi’s deliciously guided header in 52 minutes contributing 1 of the 3 goals scored by Albion in their 3:2 triumph against bitter rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers. Again, questionable defensive display would scrape the gilt off the gingerbread of Ajayi’s performance. He employed reprehensible defensive technique from the corner kick that led to Wolves’ second goal. As in the game against Liverpool, Ajayi was well placed to intercept the ball and avert danger but his judgment let him down leading to a goal against his side. For a player who scores bucket load of headed goals, Semi Ajayi’s inadequate technique in dealing with aerial threats is a paradox. Without a shadow of doubt, Ajayi is lethal when it comes to scoring headers: he is one of the best in the English Premer League. However to defend long, high balls, his anticipation, timing, positioning, decision making, leap, trajectory, body posture and direction are all suspect as can be seen in his games for Nigeria. For once in my life, Semi Ajayi has made me realise that the skills needed to head the ball into the net are worlds apart from the skills needed to head balls away from the net!
Ajayi has the former in abundance but is rough around the edges of the latter: as games against Lesotho and Sierra Leone revealed. In all, Semi Ajayi is a decent defender. His tackles, interceptions, markings, shieldings, clearances, distribution and blocks are to acceptable levels. He is also a loveable and charming character whose decision to play for Nigeria continues to be welcomed. Ajayi plays with his heart on his sleeves in national colours: something that endears him to a body Super Eagles fans. When it comes to the game, no centre defender is perfect; no footballer is perfect. For me, Semi Ajayi’s sense of positioning, sense of place, ability to deal with aerial threats and anticipatory instincts are areas that he can work at improving. Little wonder that his defensive work isn’t winning him accolades. At least his goal scoring headers help him hug headlines. But, I think as a centre defender, Ajayi would rather attract encomiums for sterling displays at the back. Hopefully, he would come to reach the peak of the mountain defensively with practice and experience. For him, heading them out are way more important than heading them in! Copyright Notice ©: unauthorised use of this material is strictly prohibited