Semi Ajayi's transfer-window message: "I'm happy to stay with Rotherham United"

BOOKWORM Semi Ajayi is embracing the idea of the next chapter of his career being with Rotherham United.
Semi AjayiSemi Ajayi
Semi Ajayi

The Millers centre-half has been in such good form in the Championship that there could be clubs keen to tempt him away from AESSEAL New York Stadium during the January transfer window.

But the Nigerian international, an ever-present for Rotherham this season, certainly isn't agitating to get away.

“I definitely see Rotherham as my long-term home,” said the 25-year-old who is working his way through the psychology tome manager Paul Warne gave him for Christmas.

“This is the club that gave me my opportunity in the Championship two years ago. They showed even more faith in me by offering me a permanent deal after my loan spell from Cardiff City. 

“We got promotion from League One and now I'm playing again in the Championship which has led to an international call-up. I owe a lot to Rotherham and I'm happy to be here.”

Ajayi, likely to make the Nigeria squad for the African Cup of Nations in the summer, is under contract until 2020 so there is no urgency for him to sit down with the Millers to discuss a new deal.

For now, he's concentrating on 21st-placed Rotherham's bid to climb further away from the drop zone and getting to grips with Warne's festive gift.

Warne bought various self-help and inspirational volumes for his players, including Ego is the Enemy, The Obstacle is the Way, Relentless and Legacy, a study of the all-conquering New Zealand rugby-union set-up.

Ajayi looked a little guilty when his boss asked him if he'd begun his reading but recovered to pledge later: “Hand on heart, I have opened the gaffer's book. 

“We'd had a conversation about a week before about psychology and stuff like that. The books he gave out were wrapped so it was completely at random which one you got. 

“I waited until Christmas Day to open mine and when I opened it it was exactly on the topic we'd been talking about.”

The Millers were favourites for relegation at the start of the campaign and are hugely exceeding expectations by being of the bottom three and making New York a venue no opposing teams relish visiting.

“Definitely the players take motivation from no-one thinking we'll stay up,” Ajayi said. “I think we have the kind of character in the dressing whereby if people write us off we just come out fighting even harder. 

“Maybe the 5-1 defeat at Brentford on opening day was a blessing in disguise. A lot of people wrote us off then and we came back strongly. I think the month or two after that we were probably in the best form we've been in all season. 

“We have some big characters in the dressing room. Talk like that is only going to make us play better.”

Meanwhile, whenever Rotherham want to discuss a new contract, he's ready to listen

“I'm open to a longer deal,” he said. “I haven't been offered anything yet so I can't really talk about it but there's not that much of a rush as I've still got 18 months left. 

“I  just want to focus on my football. If the time does come to talk about an extension, I'll be happy to do that.”

The defender cut his teeth as a youngster at Arsenal where he regularly came up against Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Mezut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in training.

Last weekend saw him facing Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane for the Millers against Premier League champions Manchester City in the FA Cup.

“I'm not intimidated by coming up against top players, not at all,” he said. “It's a chance to prove you're good enough. If anything, it's an opportunity to raise your game.

“I'm always wanting to learn. I think I've had a good season so far and I hope to continue that. I've still got a lot to improve on. I think I'm getting there. I'm nowhere near the finished article.”

Ego is definitely an enemy of humble Ajayi.

This article first appeared in the Advertiser