FOOTBALL: MOST of us can only dream of becoming a footballer. For many youngsters it becomes their ambition in early life to become a professional, but imagine being an eight-year-old child and having the decision of whether to sign for Arsenal or Chelsea at such a young age, writes Luke Turner.
It was a decision many of us would have loved to face and one that could not be taken lightly. It was the choice striker Dapo Afolayan had to make as he made the step into academy football in the hope that one day his dream of becoming a professional would come true.
“From a young age I was always playing football,” said Afolayan. “I first got picked up by Arsenal when I was playing for my local team and played in their development side. When I was eight, I had the decision about whether to sign for Arsenal or Chelsea.
“I signed for Chelsea and was at their academy for seven years. I learnt a lot there. It was the best place for me to develop because we went through a lot of technical aspects and my technique comes from being at Chelsea and working Tuesday nights in the dome.”
It’s a tough ask to make the grade at one of the biggest footballs clubs in the world, just ask ‘Dapo’. At 15, the decision was made for him to move on from Chelsea as he couldn’t leave his school and move to live in Cobham.
The journey that followed has been an eventful one. From Cobham to Toronto and now plying his trade in the National League with the Moors, his career is just getting started at the age of 19.
He’s made an immediate impact for Liam McDonald’s side, netting four times in 14 appearances since joining from Loughborough University in February and it all started from kicking a ball around in the back garden with his brother.
“We moved abroad to Toronto and I went to Toronto FC where I played in the senior academy team,” said Afolayan, who also spent a season at Barnet. “I was 16-years-old and playing with under-23s.
“I trained with the first team quite a bit and played with the likes of Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
“The facilities and money they’ve put into it makes it like being at any top club in the UK. It was a learning curve for me because I knew football only one way so it was good to see it a different way and to experience that as well.”
With many young stars getting lost in the pile up of talent in English academies, the move to Toronto may prove to be a genius masterstroke for Afolayan in the long run.
Finding that break into first team football becomes that little bit easier once you move out of your comfort zone and go that extra mile to get you back onto the right pathway.
“At 16 I was playing in the men’s league because it was supposed to challenge us so that was good as well. Some of them had been ex-pros who had played in the MLS so that was another great experience to play against them.
“We won the league and the cup in that season and went unbeaten in the league whilst I was also training with the first team.”
As the level-headed person he is, Afolayan understands the need to have something to fall back on because, not everyone can make the grade in football.
Education plays a key part in his life and he is currently studying an engineering degree at Loughborough University where he balances his studies with playing for Moors.
A typical working week sees Dapo work at university three days a week and then train with Moors once whilst maintaining his fitness with gym sessions and running in between.
“I’ve always been in school and managed to keep on top of it so I’ve kept going with it. My parents have always told me how important it is and I’ve always bought into that.
“It’s balancing football with education and then the socialising but I’m one of those people who can switch off. I can do my work, do my football and I manage my time in the right way which makes it easier.”
Afolayan has been a key cog of the Moors side that are aiming for National League survival and he recently extended his stay at the club until the end of next season.
It’s still early days in his career but the grounding he’ll get at Moors and valuable first team experience gained will help Afolayan develop and reach his potential which a lot of people see as being in the Football League- something he admits is the target.
“I’ve started quite well and it’s nice to get goals and put in good performances. I’m still at an early point in my career with Moors and there’s still more to come. The more I get used to it, the better I’ll be but it’s gone well so far.
“Any footballer’s ambition is to play at the highest level and that’s what I want to do with my career. If I can play in the Championship, League One or League Two if the opportunity arises then I’ll have to think about it and make the right decision for me.”
For now though, Dapo will look to continue to impress at The Automated Technology Group Stadium, but those extra sessions in the early days at Chelsea and the tough conditioning in Toronto may well just pay off for Oladapo Afolayan who is certainly a name to remember.