Back in 2016, in the space of just over half a year, Fisayo Adarabioyo went from National League North to the second tier of Dutch football but having grown up in professional academies, he was ready for the challenge. In fact, it was one of his former academy teams which helped him make the move to Holland.
“Well as most people know, NAC Breda have a partnership in which young talents from Manchester City can go to NAC,” says Adarabioyo.
“They were looking for a forward with certain qualities; strong, quick, yet intelligent in movement and technical in the final third, and I fitted the criteria. Having spent most of my childhood at Man City, they could gather a lot of information about me and decided they wished to sign me.”
The London-born started his career at the Manchester club alongside his younger brother Tosin who still plays for the club now, albeit he’s currently out on loan at West Brom. He then went on to have spells with the youth sides of Birmingham City, St. Johnstone and Crystal Palace before making his debut in senior football with Macclesfield Town and later AFC Fylde. It was after his time with the latter that the opportunity in Holland came about.
“I had recently left Crystal Palace U21s and was looking for an opportunity to play first team football at a high level but still develop technically and tactically too.
“For me it was a no brainer as I knew Dutch football had a reputation for developing young players and playing football in a thoughtful, productive way.”
The move to Holland had felt like a long time coming for the forward who had always had the thought in his mind after his upbringing.
“I always saw myself playing abroad at a young age, purely due to the fact that I was used to playing a certain style of football during my academy days and I didn’t believe going into the Football League would replicate that.
“I also thought I had a lot more to learn technically and in my position so moving to this league would definitely speed up that process.”
Adarabioyo joined a NAC Breda team with ambitions of promotion back to the top flight and had recruited several Manchester City players on loan as well as the tall forward to help them with their promotion push. In all there would be four Englishmen in the Breda squad that season with Ashley Smith-Brown, James Horsfield and Brandon Barker in on loan and the trio would help Adarabioyo settle in his new environment.
“I settled very well and quickly,” he says. “The players and staff at NAC Breda are people I will never forget. They were disbelievingly welcoming and were ready to help and support me in any way possible. I have made some friends for life at that club.
“Of course having guys from Man City that I’d known almost all my life and had played with in the youth team made the process even smoother.”
The reason Breda had promotion ambitions for the season was obvious. They had spent 15 consecutive seasons in the Eredivisie from 2000 and had even finished third in the league in the 2007/08 season. The club had failed to immediately bounce back to the top flight in their first year in the Eerste Divisie so there could be no excuses in their second attempt, something the English forward quickly found out.
“Of course it was a step up because there was huge pressure for the team to perform and win every week and I think that’s when you really find out about your ability.
“The training was extremely intense and was designed to see maximal progress. That more than anything just took time getting used to.”
It didn’t take the former Crystal Palace man too long to get used to it though as in just his third appearance of the season, he scored his first league goal in Holland, scoring the fourth in a 4-2 win over Waalwijk. His initial expectations of the league had been quashed by his early appearances.
“I think the best way to describe the football compared to what I was used to is just a different way of playing and a lot more technical and tactical in possession of the ball. Although, there is an assumption that is a slow paced none physical league, that isn’t the case.”
The forward would finish the regular season with 12 appearances, all from the bench as he became NAC’s go to impact substitute. The way in which the Eerste Divisie decides promotion is very complicated but their fifth place finish was enough to see them enter the promotion/relegation playoffs alongside seven other teams from their league and two sides from the Eredivisie.
NAC would go on to overcome Volendam and then top flight side NEC to earn promotion back to the big time. Their two-legged victory over NEC was particularly stunning. Having narrowly won 1-0 at home in the first leg, they blew their higher-level opponents away with a sensational 4-1 at their own ground to secure promotion. Adarabioyo featured in both legs before receiving a hero’s welcome.
“It [promotion] was an unbelievable experience, one I will hold very highly no matter what I achieve in the game,” he says. “To accomplish something like that with a young team and have a whole city behind you was really special.
“The scenes started from when we reached the final, on the bus to the game, the city when we arrived back as champions. Thousands of people on the streets celebrating for three days straight, it was definitely something I’ve never seen before.”
However, having played his part in delighting those fans with promotion, the 23-year-old would not get to taste top flight football as he was loaned back out to the second-tier, joining FC Oss. Despite the lack of English players at his new side, he found settling in no problem.
“It was again quite easy to settle in. In the Netherlands, most people speak almost perfect English so I settled in and got on well with the other guys quite quickly.”
The forward would again be mostly used as an impact substitute as he went on to make 16 appearances, 15 from the bench, scoring twice as Oss finished 15th. It meant that he had made just one league start in two seasons in Holland, something which the Englishman sees as part and parcel of football sometimes.
“I think in the end the whole experience was quite bittersweet because, although I enjoyed my time and was part of a team that did make history, I would have really liked to start more games.
“Of course there were circumstances that hindered chances, for example our striker [Cyriel Dessers] at NAC had scored 29 goals that season so to change him was difficult at times and my second season was quite stop and start with injuries.
“But I made some very effective appearances, scoring some important goals and securing wins and results a lot of the time.”
In the summer, his deal with Breda came to an end and he is now a free agent. He is still only 23 though and has hopes and matching his brother’s achievements, so far, in the future.
“My ambitions are purely to play at the highest level possible for myself and to improve every single year. Of course to play in the Premier League is an ambition of mine, however the route there may lie abroad.
“I’ve learned so much and have improved a lot as a player in my time in the Netherlands and feel if I were to return to England, it would be with a lot more strings to my bow and present me as a different type to what we now see of English players.”
Like the forward, he was part of history when he helped NAC achieve promotion and that is something that cannot be taken away from him. Whatever club next takes Adarabioyo on board will have a very handy acquisition on their hands determined to prove he is more than just an impact substitute.