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Joe Aribo puts Old Firm Derby on Nigeria's radar

As rivalries go, the Old Firm Derby is one of the biggest in the world, but it's not one that Nigerian fans have paid much attention to... until now.

Glasgow Rangers will take on bitter rivals Celtic at Ibrox on Sunday, and Joe Aribo, a recent Super Eagles call-up, will don the blue kit in a rare instance of Nigerian-as-Ranger.

Aribo is not the first Nigerian to play in the Old Firm Derby. Sone Aluko is the most recent Super Eagle to do so, but he was already a known quantity by the time he joined Rangers.

Super Eagles fans know next to nothing about the 23-year-old, who arrived from Charlton Athletic this offseason and has already played nine games for the Gers so far.

Some of those games were Europa League qualifying matches, so this meeting with Celtic presents his most high-profile opportunity to shine... and to impress the notoriously judgemental Super Eagles fans.


Nigerians have been more fixated on el Clasico, the Manchester Derby and the North London Derby, but now they will want to see why Aribo was called up to face the Ukraine next month.

Aribo, who was born in London, understands the stakes and is not shy about stoking the fires, saying he is looking forward to a win and, ultimately, the league title.

"I know how big the derby is," he tells ESPN. "The fans are just football mad, both sets of fans, and it is one of the biggest rivalries in world football so it is going to be amazing to be part of it.

"It will be great to start with a win. It's what we need in order to get the push to go ahead and win the league. You don't want to come into the dressing room with regrets so we want to leave it all out on the pitch.

"I hope that we play well and we get the result that we need. That is the most important thing. For us to get the three points. And I just can't wait for it." 


In his nine matches, Aribo has hit four goals, a sparkling start to his Rangers career and one which belies the nerves that he experienced when he arrived at Ibrox.

"I was a bit nervous at first when I got here. It's about going somewhere where you are not comfortable," he says.

"With Charlton I was there for four years so I was comfortable. This was just going into a new environment and there are lot of different people that you don't know and you want to make a good first impression.

"You're just hesitant and you don't want to seem silly so that's why I was a bit nervous." 

He also expects nerves when he shows up to Nigeria camp a few days later: "I will be nervous until I get comfortable around the rest of the squad and build friendships."

Nerves aside, Aribo says making the choice to play for Nigeria was an easy decision: "I had no hesitation.

"From when I was young I knew I wanted to play for Nigeria. So I was just happy to get the call up and it was the best decision I made really."

He is confident about the skillset he'd bring to the Nigeria camp, which has lost a couple of elder statesmen in recent months with the retirements of John Obi Mikel and Odion Ighalo.

Aribo says: "It is not like there aren't people who are doing it already, but I can bring energy into the team, getting the ball from deep and driving forward to get us up the pitch.

"I just love to be involved in and around the pitch and the position where you get most touches is centre midfield. That is where you can express yourself and that is why I love playing there."

But even at this early stage of his career, Aribo is thinking far ahead about what he wants to achieve a few years down the line.

"I would like to say I would have won the SPL and other trophies with Rangers. With Nigeria, I just want to play in the biggest tournaments, like the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup.

"That would be like a dream come true. That is what I have wanted since I was a child and it would be good to say that I was part of that."

For now though, the immediate focus is the little matter of Celtic. 


Four fast facts about Joe Aribo

1. He is the youngest of three siblings in the Aribo household. His brother is a football coach and his sister works in finance. 

"They always say they spoil me as the baby of the house but I don't believe it!" 


2. He has only been to Nigeria twice. The last time when he was eight years old.

"I am looking forward to it. And looking forward to playing in front of the Nigeria fans and in front of my family." 


3. Unlike many Nigerians born in the diaspora, Aribo says he enjoys eating spicy Nigerian food.

"I like pepper so it's not a problem for me. My favorite food is jollof rice." 


4. He has a problem speaking his parents' Yoruba language, but can understand it when spoken to.

"My accent is terrible though!"

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