Moses Simon, Ola Aina, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi are some of the names that have been key to Nigeria’s impressive performance at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
But there is another player who has earned praises from fans, but not as high as the names mentioned above, and that is Joe Aribo.
Aribo has featured in Nigeria’s two games in the competition so far, and he showed his quality in the two impressive wins against Egypt and Sudan.
The Rangers midfielder paired Ndidi in a double-pivot midfield, and he never put a foot wrong. In the game against the Pharaohs, he had the most touches (66), won more duels (8) and tackles (4) than any other player on the pitch.
Aribo started his career at Staines Town FC, which was also where he was studying Sports Science. However, he had to drop out of school when Charlton Athletic signed him in 2015.
Initially, he joined Charlton on a trial before signing a contract with the club in 2016. Aribo was a success at The Valley, helping them gain promotion to the Championship in the 2018/2019 season.
But after four years at the club, it was clear that Aribo had outgrown Charlton despite their best efforts to commit him to a new contract.
He left in the summer of 2019 to sign for Rangers on a free transfer. Aribo was an instant hit with the Gers and one of the first names on the sheet under ex-Rangers coach Steven Gerrard.
His impressive performances in the first few games of his debut season earned him a call-up to the Super Eagles squad.
Just like his Rangers career, Aribo announced himself on the international stage quickly, scoring in his first game against Ukraine.
He backed that performance with another brilliant invididual goal in a friendly against Brazil. At club level, the 2019/2020 campaign proved to be a great year for Aribo, winning Rangers Young Player of the Year and Goal of the Season.
Aribo continued in the same vein in his second season, playing a key role in Rangers first Scottish Premiership title since 2011.
This season has proven to be Aribo’s best since he arrived at the Ibrox. He has been one of the best players in the Scottish top-flight and has been Rangers best player.
The 25-year-old has scored six goals and registered five assists in 32 games for the Gers, but it is his all-round play that has caught the eye of many.
Aribo’s contract with Rangers expires in 2023, but he has been linked with a move to the Premier League this summer and it is only a matter of when not if he would move.
At the international level, he has only 12 caps to his name but he is one of the key players in the Super Eagles team.
The 2021 AFCON is his first major tournament for Nigeria, and he will hope to help the Super Eagles win their fourth title.