Jeremiah Gyebi is looking forward to 2019 with great optimism. Last year saw him move abroad for the first time, following in the footsteps of some of his best friends who were also tempted away from their English clubs. Whilst his mates have been playing in Bundesliga and Ligue 1, Gyebi, a 19-year-old defender from London, has been playing in Slovenia.
“I’ve always had in the back of my mind that playing abroad is an option and could really benefit me,” he says. “I spoke to Jadon Sancho, who is a very good mate of mine, and clearly loving life abroad right now. He told me that it if you go abroad and showcase your talent then you will be playing no matter what, they don’t care about age if your good enough you will get a chance.”
Sancho made a compelling case and is more qualified than most to pass on advice, seeing as he left England without a senior appearance to his name and now is a full international less than two years on.
However, it would still be a brave move for anyone moving abroad alone, let alone at the age of 18, which Gyebi was at the time. An experience before his move abroad would have undoubtedly helped him make the decision.
Having grown up in playing for a Brazilian soccer school and then the same Sunday League football team as future Ireland international Aiden O’Brien, the Londoner’s first professional opportunity came at the age of 16, when he was offered a scholarship by Yeovil Town after playing for Mass Elite Academy.
During his second year with Yeovil, he was offered the chance to make his first steps into senior football with a loan move to National League South side Poole Town, something which opened his eyes to the benefits of senior football at a young age.
“Going out on loan was probably the best thing I’ve done during my career,” he says. “The first team manager at Yeovil thought it would be good for me to get some men’s experience whilst still being a second-year scholar.
“I enjoyed it very much as it gave me a different outlook on football in terms of the non-league scene isn’t as bad as people think it is as there are some very good players.
“I would consider playing non-league as I think nowadays players are being picked up and gaining contracts and also it is men’s football at the end of the day so it’s not just a walk in the park.”
After four appearances in Dorset for Poole Town, the defender returned to Yeovil where he assessed his options. Having appeared for the first team at Yeovil in pre-season, where he took on the likes of AFC Bournemouth, he was hoping to be offered a professional deal on his return.
“Unfortunately, the first team manager [at Yeovil] didn’t hand out any professional contracts, which was a massive surprise especially after the season I just had.
“I spoke with my agent and we had a few other clubs interested but he told me that if you go out to Slovenia you can get some real professional experience and put your name out there. So he organised the trial and everything and I was on a plane to Slovenia.”
After impressing on trial, Gyebi secured a deal with second-tier side Ankaran Hrvatini, who had been relegated from the top flight in the previous season. He would not be the only Englishman competing in the division however, with Matthias Fanimo playing for rivals Drava Ptuj and another soon arriving at Ankaran. Benjamin Agyeman-Badu, also known as Ben Badu, would also sign alongside Gyebi after a spell playing in Serbia having started his career at Blackpool and his arrival would be a great help to the young defender.
“I think it was easy to settle down once I arrived. I wasn’t on my own gladly, I shared a room with Ben so he really helped me a lot settling in and making me feel comfortable as he has experienced this [playing abroad] before.
“We were living in a very, very small town called Postonja which has a population of 9,000 so you could imagine me and Ben spent a lot of time chilling in our room for most of our time out there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see my family but that never really phased me as I’m used to living away from them, but I would FaceTime my friends and family every day.”
The Slovenian Second League sees 16 teams play each other twice with the potential for two teams to be promoted to the top flight. Last season attendances varied with the average attendance for a match being 277 but that was up over 5p% on the previous season so there were signs the league was improving before the arrival of Gyebi.
Arriving in August, the former Yeovil Town man made his debut in September and quickly established himself as a regular starter although not always at the heart of the defence where he had played growing up. Instead, the 6-foot 4 defender was being utilised at left back for the first time.
His early appearances saw any preconceptions about the league go out of the window.
“Many people will think the standard is not good at all, which is the mentality I had when going to Slovenia, but they are wrong and so was I. The gameplay is different to England, it’s very slow and less physical however, it is tactical meaning you have to know what you’re doing every minute of the game so the opposition doesn’t out smart you.
“I wouldn’t say it is on the level of League 2 however, I was coming from Yeovil Town U18 and it’s a much different ball game to youth football. I was only 18 playing against experienced men who were a lot smarter and stronger than me, this did take me a while to get used to, however when I did, games got much easier for me.”
This was clear from results. Having lost on his debut, Ankaran went on to win four of their next five games with Gyebi starting with the club keeping three clean sheets during that period as well.
With him starting to get a foothold in men’s football and having a positive impact in matches, the young defender could start to enjoy life off the field in his new home but there proved to be very little available for himself and Badu to engage in.
“Because the town was so small there was hardly anything to do. Myself and Ben would either be sleeping, go for a walk or possibly go to the capital city for some shopping.
“I could hardly speak the language if I’m honest, just about say the basics, but being with Ben all the time, he can speak very good Serbian and that’s similar to speaking Slovenian so he was doing all the talking.”
After nine league appearances for Ankaran, the 19-year-old is now looking for a new opportunity so has turned to some familiar faces for advice on his next move.
“My ambitions for the future is to play at the highest level I can play whether that being in the UK or abroad. I don’t have an issue playing abroad, in fact my friends have left their academies in the UK and have opted to play abroad such as Reiss Nelson, Jadon Sancho and Jonathan Panzo, so clearly teams abroad must be doing something right to be attracting these kind of players.
“I’m in a group chat with Reiss and Jadon and every day. We always talk about how life is like abroad and the benefits of going abroad so who knows, maybe I can be back playing abroad or playing somewhere in the UK.”
At just 19, Gyebi has a big future ahead of him but seeing the impact Sancho and Nelson are having at the same age and with Panzo also breaking into the Monaco first team, who’s to say that the former Yeovil Town man cannot provide the same impact if given the opportunity.