When the Super Eagles lined up for the friendly match against Ukraine in 2019, a lot of Nigerians watching the game were shocked to see a new name, Joe Aribo in the starting lineup.
Aribo was not just a new name, he was starting the game and was wearing the legendary number 10 shirt that the likes of Henry Nwosu, Etim Esin, Austin Jay Jay Okocha and most recently, John Mikel Obi had sweated in.
Who was this kid? Where did he come from? How was he starting in the Super Eagles and why was he wearing the 10?
A lot of questions that Joe Aribo answered even before the first half had gone midway.
The game was just a few minutes gone when Samuel Kalu waltzed into Ukraine’s goal area and laid a sublime pass for Alex Iwobi who was almost going wide.
Iwobi’s low cross into the box was met by Joe Aribo who tucked home coolly for Nigeria’s first goal against Ukraine.
He went on to score again against Brazil and has gone on to play two more games for Nigeria- in Uyo against Benin and in Maseru against Lesotho.
But who is Joe Aribo?
Joseph Ayodele-Aribo starting his playing career with Staines Town under Marcus Gayle in the Isthmian League Premier Division, winning the club’s academy player of the year award in April 2014.
He joined Charlton Athletic in September 2015 following a successful trial and signed a one-year contract in May 2016.
Aribo was offered a new contract by Charlton at the end of the 2018–19 season, but he instead opted to sign a four-year deal with Scottish Premiership club Rangers, making his competitive debut for the club on 9 July 2019 in a 4–0 win over St Joseph’s of Gibraltar in the Europa League. (Wikipedia.org)
“I am just a humble quiet person. I just keep to myself I am very shy so I don’t like to be outgoing,” Aribo said to NigerianFootballer.com.
Facing the home fans
After playing his first two games in Ukraine and Singapore, it was time to face the home fans for the first time.
Nigeria, as we all know is a football-mad country, so what was it like for Aribo? Did he have jitters?
“I wouldn’t say jitters. I had nerves, but nerves are a good thing and I tell you it was a good thing,” Aribo told NigerianFootballer.com.
“It was my first time in front of the home fans. I know they saw the previous games but they could now see me in person and have good things to say about me.
“I know how much the fans love football, they breathe football and they just love it and they are passionate so I got what I expected to see,” Aribo said.
Jumping on the Okocha debate
Every time, since former midfield Maestro, Austin Jay Jay Okocha retired from International football, it has been comparisons galore with anyone who as much as tried to play like him or wear the number 10 jersey.
Players like Rabiu Ibrahim, Lukman Haruna, and even Stanley Okoro had been compared to Okocha and at some point, Rabiu was called “the new Jay Jay” by the Nigerian media.
John Mikel Obi was thought to be the new Jay Jay too but the fact that he played as a Defensive Midfielder for most of his club career reduced his creativity at the Super Eagles.
It didn’t take long before the Okocha comparisons came for Aribo.
“I will never compare myself to him (Jay Jay) because everyone knows how good he was,” Aribo said.
“I will just try to be the best I can and I will like people to say I am very good and earned the right to wear the jersey of the Super Eagles and not compare myself to him.
“He was good and everyone knows he deserves the jersey is what I would want people to say about me.”
The young man has a dream and dreams are allowed in football and in life.
“I hope that we will play in many tournaments and progress in them and I hope that I will play for Nigerian for many years to come
“I want to be like one of the greats. I want to be remembered as highly as possible.
“If I can put in performances back to back to back and get us as far as possible in tournaments, then that will be great,” Aribo enthused.
Naija Jollof rice
For a person that was born in the United Kingdom, it would naturally be great to know his meal preferences especially now that he is a Nigerian International and his choices did not disappoint.
“I had eba and stew in my time in Nigeria and I ate jollof rice lots of times and fried rice too.
“Nigerian jollof rice is the best. I wouldn’t try any other.”
The youngster also did not have to make a choice between England and Nigeria because, like he told NigerianFootballer.com, he knew what he wanted to do right from time.
“I wasn’t torn between playing for Nigeria and any other country. I knew what I wanted to do and I just knew I wanted to play for Nigeria.
“I love the reception. The love from the fans is wonderful, very overwhelming and I just enjoy it. The love from the fans has been wonderful.”
In his fledgling football career, Aribo has had 154 career appearances, scoring 22 goals and as an International, he has had 4 caps and 2 goals.