They’re calling it the signing of the summer. Even good old Chris Sutton thinks the acquisition of Nigeria’s Joe Aribo is the best work Steven Gerrard did this close season, and on the evidence of the new campaign, it’s hard to argue with that.
Let’s lay out the facts – Rangers’ scouting department picked up on League One Charlton’s Aribo, with his exemplary performances domestically and in the promotion playoffs. Thanks to cross-border FIFA rules a move north for the 22-year old would only cost £250,000, but there was a big problem:
Charlton boss Lee Bowyer was willing to sacrifice his children to hold onto his star man, while PL sides like Aston Villa were willing to pay big money to, and for, the midfield colossus to clinch his signature.
Up against that, Rangers had no chance. Right?
And yet, despite all the temptations elsewhere, despite the financial lure of the Promised Land in England, and the chance to face Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool, Joe Aribo rejected John Terry, he rejected Lee Bowyer, and he chose Steven Gerrard in the backwater that is Scottish football.
Let’s not understate how big a deal this is. While he’s being well-rewarded for his choice (he’s said to be on £20Kpw), he could have got double that at Villa with ease. By a distance the best player in League One? The Birmingham giants aren’t going to offer peanuts.
And yet he chose Rangers.
Aribo, for his part, admits there’s three lures as to why he came here – Steven Gerrard, Rangers themselves, and Europe. The latter one is telling, and huge.
Rangers are ‘only’ in the Europa League, so not even the Champions League. Meanwhile many would argue the Premier League is more lucrative, in fact a lot more lucrative than the UEL. You’re facing Chelsea and Spurs, as opposed to a Romanian or Hungarian mob no one’s heard of. And yet he chose that, Rangers and Steven Gerrard.
In many ways, Aribo is very much Rangers’ Dembele, but he’s more. Celtic scouted the Fulham youngster and used the same cross-border rules to get him for £250,000. They sold for £20M.
Joe Aribo, inside barely 7 appearances for the Famous, and already with a Nigeria call-up thanks to his move north, immediately looks a player with even more potential than Dembele did.
Remember, even when France weren’t the same powerhouse they became by 2018, he still couldn’t get a call up aged 20-22. France weren’t remotely fancied for that world cup – they were modest dark horses but not a soul saw them as winners. So don’t delude yourselves into thinking he ‘just couldn’t get a cap for the best NT in the world’. And if Borna Barisic can get a pile for the second best one…
Whereas Aribo already has a call up for Nigeria, the 33rd ranked side in the world, a very decent number indeed.
Gerrard believes Aribo can go all the way in this game – and the truth is he’s right. The soon-to-be Nigerian international will not see out his whole contract at Ibrox with the progress he’s making. He is just too big for the SPL and we can see another potential Van Dijk here. Rangers will have to sell in a year or two when his performances attract the biggest clubs around.
But unlike the fee for Van Dijk that Southampton paid, Aribo will fetch a record for a Scottish-based player. This, make no mistake, could earn Rangers an astonishing return.
If constantly-injured Kieran Tierney fetched Celtic £25M, with roughly a dozen caps for an absolutely atrocious Scotland, what will a midfield goliath who’s going to become a regular for Nigeria fetch?
We might be wrong – this lad may choose to remain long-term at Ibrox – but he has just got too much talent and quality to want to play out his career at stadiums like Bayview, with all due respect.
And the funny thing is? We still think he’s only in second gear…