Fit as a fiddle, calm, smart and unassuming – Joe Aribo is the perfect identity of the consummate professional sportsman.
One of his coaches as a youth player said he’s a better role model for young, aspiring footballers than Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. He lives the simple life and it is evident in how he carries himself on the pitch.
While he attempts the ambitious once in a while in his football, he is seen by many as the simple footballer whose interests are just in finding a balance.
Aribo is a tactically-aware footballer. His head is tuned in most of the time, especially when everyone else does his job. He offers a great balance to every team he’s played in – Charlton, Rangers or the Super Eagles, and he has a good skillset to send tongues wagging at times.
His goal against Brazil in the friendly comes to mind. When he makes those runs, he can be dangerous, as evident in how he helped Rangers in the Europa League in various roles.
Aribo is far from completion, he’s still work-in-progress and has had to beat doubts about his quality as a footballer. His earliest coaches saw him best as a Sunday League player but he played in every Europa League match last season and was ever present for club and country.
With a £10m plus add-ons move to Southampton on the horizon, it’s generally felt that it’s the next progression for a midfielder of his quality.
The last three years of his career have helped him develop as a footballer and at the St. Mary’s, more may be in the kitchen.
Ralph Hassenhuttl’s style seems like the one Aribo will settle and gel in well considering he thrives best in a midfield pair. His versatility also offers considerable options for any manager. He played in eight positions last season for the Gers and thrived in many of them.
Aribo may not have such freedom in the Premier League but he has the eyes of the world to see what he has in stock.
The Premier League is not known for a wide patience window
Aribo worked hard as Nigeria started the AFCON like the real deal. Playing alongside Wilfred Ndidi in a double-pivot, his intelligent touches and deftness helped the Super Eagles gain a level of control.
He was also seen in spells charging the creative segment of the midfield as Iheanacho stood a distance ahead, leaving the former Charlton man with more space to cover.
In situations the Super Eagles didn’t have the ball, Aribo worked twice as hard to make up for the space of the third man. That’s how hardworking he can be on his day.
The match against Tunisia exposed the frailties in the team, and the one-direction approach was easily rattled. Aribo hardly recovered from that disappointment.
For weeks, he was just a mere presence in the Rangers midfield. His usual simplistic yet expressive approach was lost. He made turnovers for fun, and struggled to bring games under control. His first touch became challenging, despite being one of his core strengths. Rangers fans expressed their displeasure on social media but Giovanni Van Bronckhorst kept faith with the Nigerian.
Many coaches would not. He was trusted to recover and he did and the player said later that he struggled to recover from the AFCON disappointment.
The Premier League isn’t known for such patience. Their fans are one of the most demanding in the world and every bad performance is brought under the spotlight. Aribo is a footballer who thrives on the energy that surrounds him and those weeks will come when his game will not be at the level desired by fans. If he can stick it down and chin up is left to be seen.
His football is undeniably good, and he has come of age to make an impact in the biggest league in the world at a club that suits his growth and profile but, there will be slips and he must learn to deal with them. They can be rattling, reaching and ripping. And these are the time he must prove his readiness to take the world on.