The Rangers machine: Joe Aribo opens up on number of matches, AFCON and importance of pasta

Ryan Kent calls him “a utility player” in a nod to Joe Aribo’s versatility, playing all but three positions for Rangers throughout his three-year career. This season though, the Nigerian can lay claim to another title. Simply, a machine.

Joe Aribo has played more than 60 matches for Rangers.
Joe Aribo has played more than 60 matches for Rangers.

This week’s cup-final double header for Rangers, in Seville for the Europa League and Hampden against Hearts for the Scottish Cup, will take Aribo’s match tally to an exhaustive 66 games this term, believed to be the second-highest in world football.

From Alashkert to Eintracht Frankfurt, and the African Cup of Nations in between, Aribo has put the hard yards in this season – all over the world, and all over the pitch.

Hide Ad

Versatility is an attribute favoured by Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his version of the Dutch total football concept. Calvin Bassey can play left-back or left of centre. John Lundstram in midfield or defence. Aribo? Everywhere.

More recently it has been as a centre-forward as Rangers’ injury-list restricted selection options and he turned to Aribo to play as a false nine, through the middle.

Hide Ad

“I’m just happy to be out there, helping the boys whatever way I can,” the former Charlton man said.

‘It’s different compared to playing in midfield areas, of course. But I want to add goals into my game so in that sense there is an easier chance to score.

Hide Ad

‘I’ve not really played that much up front. It’s one I’m still adapting to.

‘When I find out that I’m going to be playing up front, I speak a lot with Roy [Makaay, assistant coach].

Hide Ad

‘He tells me some movements. He knows that I’m strong and can battle with defenders and back in.

‘You can’t get a better guy when you think about his career, what he did, it just shows I’m not in bad company and can learn from him.”

Hide Ad

He has also learned from his manager.

Returning from Nigeria’s AFCON disappointment, losing at the knockout stage to Tunisia in game 35 of Aribo’s year, his form dipped, but words from van Bronckhorst restored Aribo’s confidence, form and energy levels which are still going strong as his test of endurance reaches an end point and a chance of silverware.

Hide Ad

‘There was disappointment at [Nigeria] not going as far as I felt we could have done because we had a good group stage. There was a bit in my feelings and it showed in my form.

‘I had to put it behind me and had a chat with the manager. He said he’d been there, he’d been in about five semi-final losses and that’s a hard thing to endure. He really helped me get back.

Hide Ad

‘It’s always good to have a manager who has been there and done it. Everyone can go through their own things personally, but a manager with that kind of experience knows how to be and what buttons to push.”

As game 65 and 66 loom, van Bronckhorst will ask Aribo for a final push – and he’ll turn to his kitchen staple to see him over the finish line.“I eat a lot of pasta, to be fair. It is my go-to.

Hide Ad

“It’s testament to the staff here, everyone, really. The sports scientists help me with my recovery and keep me going. With the chefs, it’s about what I’m eating.

‘I’ve got to be thankful for everything they do.”