Having failed to recreate his Glasgow Rangers’ form at Southampton and now more of a bench warmer at Saint Mary’s, Joe Aribo now risks being shipped back to the Ibrox
Joe Aribo’s future at Southampton could be up in flames as the former Rangers star’s struggles to hit form continues.
The Nigerian was a top performer for the Ibrox side during his time in Glasgow, topped off by a mammoth
70-game season last year that saw club
and country benefit from the attacker’s dedication. Aribo wrote his name in to the annals of Rangers history with a goal in an ultimately heart-breaking Europa League final before a £10m move to the English Premier League followed.
Under former boss Ralph Hasenhüttl, Aribo was a regular feature on the South coast and even notched up a few goals and assists for the Saints. But the arrival of Nathan Jones and the resumption following the World Cup has brought just two starts for the 26-year-old despite the Welsh coach revealing his admiration of Aribo.
And in the case of Aribo, Jones ruled out a transfer exit in the summer but now that path could re-open. Yet he did lump the attacker in the category of someone who has struggled to ‘integrate’ in to his team.
He told Hampshire Live last week: “I’ve tried to sign Joe at two places I was at. I tried to sign him at Luton when he was younger.
“I tried to sign him at Stoke City when I was there. I see a lot in Joe and I’ve known him for a long time from the Charlton academy. I know what he can do and there’s a lot of new players here this year that may take a little bit of time. We always knew this was going to be a really difficult season in terms of the integration.
After a bright start to life at St Mary’s, Aribo was dropped following the arrival of Jones, which has seen the Super Eagles midfielder’s post Rangers dream turn sour as Southampton boss brands frozen out playmaker ‘a victim’.
The now erstwhile Southampton boss admitted Aribo has been a “victim” of his squad reshuffle with the former Rangers star struggling for game time.
The Nigeria international left Ibrox in the summer after a successful stint north of the border, with the playmaker lifting the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup, as well as scoring in a Europa League final before making the switch to St Mary’s. Things got off to a bright start for the 26-year-old after departing Rangers having been handed regular minutes by then Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, starting 10 of his first 14 games on the south coast.
However, things appear to be quickly turning sour with the club in the midst of a relegation scrap, Jones was brought in as boss and Aribo found regular game time hard to come by – failing to make an appearance for the last three games despite Southampton being rooted to the foot of the table. Jones admits he had tested other players in Aribo’s role leaving the former Light Blues’ hero on the fringes on the squad.
Speaking to the Daily Echo, Jones said: “We’ve got a lot of midfield players, a lot of people. So, we’re just trying to find a balance in there where we get the best out of everyone. Joe has been a little bit of a victim but he’s played well. He came into the game against Crystal Palace the other day and had an impact.
“We’ve had a few out, we’ve had a few people come back in, we’ve had a lot of games, we’ve played James Ward-Prowse in an advanced position and he scored goals so that’s kind of Joe’s position. So, he’s been a victim of a few things really but look, we like Joe and Joe trains hard. He’s a great character in terms of everything. So, it takes time, you know, and as I said, we’re in the thick of it now in terms of games so I’m sure Joe will contribute.”
Jones insists Aribo is part of his plans at St Mary’s as he ruled out the prospect of a speedy return to Rangers when quizzed on the prospect of the Nigeria International going back to Scotland.
Aribo hasn’t featured since coming off late on in the 2-1 FA Cup win over Crystal Palace on January 7. Southampton have played four games since then, including the midweek Carabao Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Newcastle United, but the former Charlton Athletic playmaker hasn’t even come off the bench.
That has led to speculation over a possible return to Ibrox where he became a fans’ favourite with a huge part in the 2021 Scottish Premiership title success and he scored in the Europa League final against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Jones was asked directly about the possibility of returning to Scotland in his press conference ahead of Southampton’s FA Cup fifth round tie against Blackpool and he ruled it out, saying: “Joe is someone I want to keep here. I like Joe, Joe is definitely someone I’d like to be here. He’s been a bit unlucky not to play since Palace but that will change.”
Meanwhile, BBC pundit Kenny Miller is “sure” Michael Beale would have looked at bringing Joe Aribo back to Rangers with the Nigerian currently out of favour at Southampton.
Miller feels that if the opportunity arose, it’s something the former QPR boss would certainly consider.
“Michael Beale has become known for wanting to play two No.10s in his Rangers team. But at this rate, he could have eight at his disposal for just three slots,” wrote Miller.
“With news that Southampton might look to offload Joe Aribo, I’ve even heard some Gers fans say the club should bring him back.
“But where would he fit in? Incidentally, if Michael could get Aribo back on loan, I’m sure it’s something he’ll have looked at, given the Nigerian’s contribution last time around.”
Aribo has had his time at Ibrox. He was a huge success and he earned his move to the Premier League, but for Rangers, it’s time to move on. His wages would’ve been doubled on the South Coast and financially a move would be hard to complete.