In late June 2019 Rangers were linked with Charlton Athletic’s Joe Aribo, who had just helped Charlton to the championship and was tipped by the Charlton faithful to be their star in the championship. Manager Lee Bowyer told Aribo he would be making an error joining Rangers, saying “if he goes to Rangers that is not the right place for him to go for his football career,” but the call of Ibrox and manager Steven Gerrard was too strong and he joined for free on the 1st of July 2019.
He started strong and his dazzling feet and great technique caught the eye of the Ibrox crowd, Rangers had signed an entertainer it seemed. Times would not always go his way and Rangers struggled to “close the gap” to rivals Celtic, Aribo would come in for criticism at times for “trying to do too much” or being too lightweight.
Aribo would however show his ability in that season by scoring one of his most memorable goals for the Glasgow Giants, a phenomenal solo goal against Braga In the Europa League. He was given the Goal of the Season award by his colleagues at the player of the year awards. Nigeria also called and he made his first of 20 international caps.
And those flashes of brilliance turned into a consistent flame for the 20/21 season. Aribo and his teammates would peak under Gerrard in amongst the silence of COVID-closed grounds.
Aribo can play across the front 3 and usually started on the right or in the 10, Gerrard used him and loved him. He would play 25 league games, scoring 6 and assisting 4 as Rangers went invincible and secured the Famous title number 55 and ending Celtic’s dreams of winning 10 league titles in a row.
He showed his metal, strengthening up and becoming more dominant on the pitch, no more lightweight tag for him. His ability to hold the ball as if it was super glued to his feet and escape tight situations began to get better and better, he is an entertainer and a gifted technical player who scored some wonderful goals and assisted with the odd no-look pass.
The Nigerian international’s personal highlights, though, came over the last year. He had become a key member of the Rangers squad and had plenty of European experience but that experience was about to become something special during the 21/22 campaign.
The title defence in Scotland would stutter as Gerrard left for Villa and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst took charge. Aribo would leave the club for a spell as he was called alongside teammates Balogun and Bassey to represent Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations.
The Super Eagles were tipped to go far, they made a winning start beating Mo Salah and Egypt 1 nil, Aribo with the assist. He lit up the tournament and was constantly clipped up by Rangers twitter as he shone for his country.
He only bagged one assist but the stats lie about the quality Aribo demonstrated. They would disappointingly crash out in the round of 16 and that would be felt by Aribo who struggled to overcome the disappointment.
Questions at times have been raised over his mental strength in big moments, he often struggled in the vicious old firm derby and came under criticism for disappearing in such events. Not so in the Europa League though, during his time at Rangers Aribo played left back, centre mid, left wing, right wing, attacking mid and centre forward. The latter was a position he had to fill as Rangers lost Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe to injury.
Rangers league form slumped as Celtic and Ange Postecoglou marched toward the title but Rangers were the talk of Scottish football as they kept motoring on in Europe. Dortmund, Red Star, Braga, Leipzig all fell as they roared into the final.
Aribo played 15 games during the campaign, grabbing 3 assists. He hadn’t managed to get on the scoresheet but his moment and perhaps his greatest Rangers moment would come in the final against Frankfurt. Aribo would find himself again as the makeshift centre forward but that’s been the mark of the man, he has always played where needed.
In the 57th minute, Aribo would find himself chasing a loose ball, a slip from the opposition centre back and an extremely good finish under immense pressure gave the Rangers fans a moment that will never be forgotten, euphoria in Seville and even though they would go onto lose Aribo’s name is etched in history for generations of fans to come.
He has now completed a move to Southampton, leaving Rangers as a good servant with flashes of brilliance. Lee Bowyer’s comment when he left Charlton are a distant echo as he is now a Saint in the Premier League and he has the ability and potential to push on to the very top.
Southampton fans should be excited and expectant. They are getting a 20-time capped, European-experienced, league-winning playmaker for a small fee of around 10 million pounds, that’s what you call a good deal. The Super Eagle has become a Saint.
By: Fraser Fletcher / @FrazFletcher
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mark Runnacles / Getty Images