Antoine Semenyo: How Bournemouth forward went from Sunday League to Premier League after academy rejection

Antoine Semenyo took a different path to the Premier League without playing for an academy; Bournemouth forward was rejected by Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Arsenal and others; Watch Burnley vs Bournemouth from 12pm on Sky Sports Premier League this Sunday; Kick-off 1pm

Image: Antoine Semenyo celebrates after scoring at Newcastle in February.

How do you become a Premier League regular and an international without coming through a club academy system? Antoine Semenyo found a way.

The Bournemouth and Ghana forward gave up on football at the age of 15 after a failed eight-week trial at Crystal Palace. It was the last of several rejections that pushed him to quitting.

“I went to quite a few clubs and was told the same thing that I wasn’t good enough. It’s tough as a kid hearing that,” Semenyo told Sky Sports having been playing Sunday League for local side Kingfisher amid unsuccessful trials with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Millwall.

  • Watch Burnley vs Bournemouth live on Sky Sports on Sunday
  • NOW Sports Month Membership just £21 a month for 12 months
  • Get Sports | Download the Sky Sports app

“Palace hit me hard the most because I was there for so long. My trial got extended and I thought I was going to be signed – and it didn’t happen.

“I remember getting into the car crying and saying to my dad, ‘Why does this keep happening?’. I stopped playing football for a year after that. I didn’t play any sport, I put on a lot of weight. I didn’t think I’d be here, but God works in mysterious ways.”

Semenyo prays day and night and says he is a “man of God”, crediting his faith for the role in his journey. “He’s told me that when I was young it wasn’t meant to be and that now, it is.”

Image: Antonio Semenyo celebrates scoring for Bournemouth at Anfield with a back flip.

The 24-year-old also owes a lot to his family’s support and his father Larry, who played alongside Leeds cult hero Tony Yeboah at Okwawu United in the Ghana Premier League.

“My dad used to get me kicking anything with both feet, whether it was paper, a can, anything. At the age of six I was able to kick with both feet. Now it feels like second nature.”

But while coaches at academies came close to ending Semenyo’s dream, one played a major part in helping it become a reality.

It was at an open trial where Semenyo, who said he “still had all the ability in the world but had just put on a bit of weight”, was convinced by Dave Hockaday, once manager of Leeds for 70 days, to join his college program in Swindon meaning he would have to leave home at 16.

Semenyo took the jump, earning a BTEC in sports science while playing for Hockaday at the South Gloucestershire and Stroud College. Hockaday was always by his side, driving him back and forth between Swindon and Bristol. “I’m really grateful for him,” said Semenyo. His breakthrough soon arrived.

“In the summer, we used to have games against academy teams and I remember scoring against everyone. I had loads of teams come in for me after that: Bristol, Birmingham…Palace came back as well. I picked Bristol because I didn’t want to relocate and after a two-week trial I got signed.”

Image: Antoine Semenyo scored against Burnley earlier this season.

Semenyo penned a four-year deal and was fast-tracked to training with the U23s, then heading out on loan for his first taste of senior football at Bath City in the sixth tier at the age of 18 and 16 days. There was a hat-trick in a Somerset Premier Cup tie but also a red card against Wealdstone.

“I was getting into it with a centre-back. He tackled me and I said I’d get some revenge. I was so late. Those are learning curves.

“When you’re playing U23s it’s all nice ticky-tacky but going to men’s football, the pitches aren’t as great, you’re playing against guys who are much more experienced and just want to kick you. I wasn’t used to that. I took quite a few hits. But Bath was a great experience.”

Semenyo returned to Bristol City and made his first-team debut at the end of that season. He went on loan again in 2018-19 at Newport in League Two, starting in their FA Cup victory over then-Premier League side Leicester.

Image: Antoine Semenyo playing for Newport against Leicester in 2019.

It was in south Wales where Michael Flynn started playing him as a winger rather than a striker which has largely stuck ever since. He is now comfortable on either side.

A handful more appearances for Bristol City followed before another loan spell, this time at Sunderland in League One until he finally broke into the first team. Then Nigel Pearson arrived. Semenyo smiles at that name.

“I had a bit of a cagey start with him. I wasn’t really playing much and as a player you’re like, ‘Why am I not playing?’. He just said your best ability is running and shooting so all you need to do is run and shoot!

“There was a lot of direct football and I blossomed off that. I played in a front three with Andreas Weimann and Chris Martin and that year was one of the best of my career.”

Image: Antoine Semenyo in action for Ghana at the 2022 World Cup.

His eight goals and 12 assists led to being named in Ghana’s World Cup squad and also a move to Bournemouth in January 2023. Despite having surgery on a shin injury in pre-season, Semenyo has become one of Andoni Iraola’s regulars, starting 15 times in the league, but the challenge remains the same.

“I just want to prove I am good enough to be where I’m at, that’s just my mindset from when I was young,” he said, with four league goals to his name this season. “I had to learn the hard way, not being able to come to nice training facilities and glamourous pitches and professional coaches.

“You learn in a different way, playing on rougher pitches against brutal players, coaches who work part-time. Both build character in different aspects but it’s a lot tougher playing Sunday League.”

Watch Burnley vs Bournemouth from 12pm on Sky Sports Premier League this Sunday; Kick-off 1pm


No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *