Joe Aribo: is he doing a yeoman's job in midfield for Nigeria?
galleriesgalleriEtebo and Aribo have one thing in common: both are accomplished wingers/attacking midfielders at some point in their careers who had to make way and be withdrawn to centre midfield to accommodate others and improve their own chances of being selected in the Super Eagles.
At the 2016 Olympics, Etebo produced excellent performances for Nigeria as a winger so much so that til date, that remains arguably the highest point in his career for Nigeria across all levels. Making transition to the Super Eagles, there was no space for him on the flanks so he had to make do with a slot in midfield.
Even in the Spanish La Liga for Getafe as recently as 2020, Etebo shone like a million stars as a further forward right midfielder (where he came close to scoring severally.
Aribo also does a sterling job for Rangers as a further forward right midfielder in club football. Yes his primary role is defined as centre midfield but he produces his best arguably closer to opposition 18 yard box.
For both players, it is clear that there is no space for them in the flanks for the Super Eagles. Hence they would have to remain comfortable playing from deep in the middle.
Etebo has definitely settled in that role however Aribo is still trying to find his feet against African oppositions.
He doesn’t offer much offensively and is at times nowhere to be found defensively. Despite how he is deployed in his club, Aribo will still have to develop the totality of the repertoire of skills needed to make himself a success for Nigeria as a centre midfielder.
At the moment, without being biased, Frank Onyeka is more effective as a centre midfielder for the Super Eagles simply because that is the role he plays week in week out for his Premier League club.
Hence it comes to him naturally. However, in that role, Aribo is more mobile and has far greater potentials (offensively) than Onyeka. Aribo takes up promising positions and is more compelling driving the ball to dangerous areas. But these are not coming out near enough from Aribo at the moment, he does need to carve our a niche for himself and define the centre midfield role in a manner distinct to himself.
Aribo is ahead of Onyeka in the pecking order at the moment and I suggest he digs deep to make the starting slot his personal property.
It is highly unlikely that either Aribo or Etebo will kit out for the Super Eagles as a winger; I just don’t see it happening despite how they are utilitized club-wise. But both can leverage transferable skills as wingers to thrive in the centre midfield for Nigeria. Afterall, a key aspect of a modern day winger (like Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu) is to track back to support the defence. So, there are attacking and defensive responsibilities shoehorned into the winger’s role.
I guess this aided Etebo’s seamless transition from a superstar Olympic bronze medallist winger to a Super Eagles steady and solid winger.
Those hoping to see Aribo as a more attacking option for the Super Eagles might not see that ambition realised.
Just like Etebo, I think the Rangers man has to make the Center Midfield position in the Super Eagles his own by leveraging his winger skills to develop the attacking and defensive requirements needed for him to thrive there for the Super Eagles.