Ever since Alex Neil suggested that Preston needed more experience, fans have been attempting to guess his targets.
A whole range of players aged 30 or over have been suggested. Charlie Adam, David Nugent, countless other names. Yet is that what Neil really meant?
Yes, there may be one or two in the 28-32 range that are on North End’s radar. Yet what Neil may have actually meant is a player like Brad Potts. He arrived at the age of 24 in January, with Championship experience and nearly 300 career appearances under his belt. He still has room to grow, but didn’t need any settling in period.
That’s the kind of player North End will be looking for this summer, and one player who fits the bill is Rotherham United’s Semi Ajayi.
Now, signing players from relegated teams can unnerve some. ‘Why sign a player who just went down?’, they’ll ask. Well, Potts was relegated himself last year with Barnsley; sometimes, there are gems to be found in the relegated sides.
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Ajayi appears to be one. The 25-year-old racked up seven goals from holding midfield, impressing in the Millers’ engine room. He started every single Championship game, and missed just 33 minutes of action all season.
He may not be quite as experienced, with 130 career appearances at 25, but around half have come in the Championship. He’s familiar with the division, just like Potts is like, whilst still having room to develop.
Ajayi, standing at 6ft 4in tall, has the height North End lack at times. He’s capable of playing as a centre back, offering great versatility, whilst he’s strong and quick, which would fit in well with Neil’s style. You only have to look at how integral Alex Tettey was to Neil to see how a physical, combative and athletically gifted midfielder can thrive for him.
Add in that Ajayi even has international experience, and he’s hard to ignore. He’s picked up five caps for Nigeria, all since the World Cup. He’s becoming more and more important for his country, off the back of starring for Rotherham.
With one year left on his deal, Rotherham will likely have to cash in on Ajayi this summer. Other clubs may be keen, but he ticks so many boxes for North End, that we must be in this particular race.