This year marks Londoner Samuel ‘Jay’ Naiwo’s fourth season in Sweden but it has been nearly eight years now since he left the UK to further his education both on and off the field.
Having spent time with Millwall and Crystal Palace growing up and then undertaking his scholarship with Cambridge United, the midfielder with an eye for goal headed to the States when he was 18 on a soccer scholarship, spending four years across the Atlantic.
After that, he returned to Europe in 2016 to sign for Gällivare Malmbergets in the fourth-tier of Swedish football. After making an impression in his first season, scoring 14 goals in 25 games, Naiwo joined fellow Division 2 side Piteå where he continued his impressive scoring, firing a further 13 goals. The following season, he made the move to the third-tier, known as Division 1, to join Sandvikens which is where he has been ever since.
The 26-year-old has a goal and four assists so far this season with his side currently sitting third after eleven games as the club looks to replicate the glory days of the 1930s when the side finished third in the top flight.
I caught up with Jay last month to ask him a few questions about his footballing journey so far.
English Players Abroad: I saw you studied in the States, how did that come about and did enjoy your time there?
Jay Naiwo: After leaving Cambridge United, I took a year to sit down and think about what I wanted to do with myself. My old coach told me about the football scholarship they offer so I looked into it and was interested so decided that would be my next move.
I went to a junior college called SUNY Adirondack for two years and that was a big change for me. It was upstate New York so I was four hours away from New York City. Lucky for me, I had five other English guys in my first year and then eleven English boys in my second year, which made it easier for me.
I then moved to a Division II school Wilmington University in Delaware, which was better as it was a four year school. I was close to Philadelphia, which was good because my mum’s brother lived there so it was nice to have family around.
Overall, I would say I enjoyed my experience in America because it was something new but if I’m honest I wouldn’t do it again.
EPA: Then came the move to Sweden, was that through the LFE? If not, how did the move come about and what made you want to play in Sweden?
JN: I never came to Sweden through LFE. One of my teammates in America had an agent and he had been to Sweden himself for a trial. I asked him if he could show his agent my highlight video to see if he would be interested. He liked what he saw and got in contact with me. I wouldn’t say I thought it was a country I would end up playing football in. I had actually been to Sweden for the first time when I was 17 for the Gothia Cup so maybe that was a sign I would end up back in Sweden one day.
EPA: How did you settle in Sweden? Did you find it easier living there having spent time away in the States?
JN: Yes, that definitely helped having the experience being away from home before. I settled quite easily although again I was in a small town. Also I had five other English boys in the team which of course made it easier.
EPA: What did you think of the standard in Division 2? How did it compare to college soccer?
JN: I thought the standard was okay in Division 2, but I knew I could play higher. I would say the standard was better in Sweden compared to Division II college soccer.
EPA: Then came the move up a division last summer, how delighted were you to make that happen and had you always targeted moving up the leagues?
JN: I was very delighted with the move and I thought I could’ve made the move sooner. I had showed what I was able to do in Division 2 my first year by scoring 14 goals and assisting 10 goals in a team that finished just above relegation with Gallivare. I then moved to Pitea who had just been relegated from Division 1 and scored 13 goals and assisted 12. It was always my target to move up the leagues for sure.
EPA: How did you find the step-up, you seem to have taken it in your stride?
JN: People had told me that the biggest jump in Sweden was going from Division 2 to Division 1 so going into it I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I adapted quickly and like you said I took in my stride. My first game was against Vasteras SK who were top of the table. We drew 1-1 and I got man of the match. Then AIK in the Swedish Cup I got man of the match again. I then got an assist the next league game, and two assists the game after that. Having that good run of form helped me through the rest of the season and that helped calm my nerves and have confidence going into each game.
EPA: Finally, what are your ambitions for the future?
JN: My ambitions are to play at the highest level I can whether it’s here in Sweden or a different country. If I’m still in Sweden, I want to be play in the Allsvenskan of course.