How Aribo found his way to the Premier League, promise to Marcus Gayle

Joe Aribo fulfilled a childhood dream on July 9, 2022, when he signed for Southampton in the English Premier League.

In documenting his journey to the Premier League, the 26-year-old midfielder revealed his unusual route, especially for players in the United Kingdom.

“Growing up, I didn’t know any scouts, any agents. So, I’ll say that was definitely a factor, you know,” Aribo told the Premier League YouTube Channel.

“Also, my parents were working and stuff, so it wasn’t like they could just be taking me to football as easily. So I was going by myself. Do you know what I’m saying? I knew I was right, but like, I didn’t feel like I was at the level that other kids were like, so yeah.

“I just felt like I was a little behind, like, other kids have been in academies, you know. Didn’t even know many footballers playing in the academy. Not many people were even playing football in my area.

“I didn’t even understand scholars and stuff. Like, I was playing under 16s Sunday League.

“Obviously, I knew a lot that I need to get to the academy. I’m getting older. I’m hearing people saying to me ah like “You still going to keep playing football?”

“I’ve got friends around me that have stopped now. Yeah, I did have the pressure, thinking to myself, okay, I need to like get in the system.”

Aribo’s road to the EPL went through Charlton Athletic, from where he moved to Scotland to join Rangers in 2019 for $200,000.

Aribo continued, “I went to Kingston college. This is actually crazy because I was meant to go to a different college. I wanted to go to a different one, but I didn’t get in because I didn’t enrol in time.

“So, I wasn’t playing any football for any team. I didn’t know what I was going to do in terms of football and then I saw one of my old teammates that I was within the under 16 level and he was at Staines obviously doing the college system and then I was just like, ah, like I’ll get you a trial, he said, you might as well just come down and play.

“So, I literally just went. I did well in my trials. Now I’m playing for Staines Town, also going to Kingston College. It was that, a course, where you do both. It was that, a course, where you do both.

“I’d say it was, it was one, definitely my dad. He wouldn’t have allowed me to just not do anything. So he would have me maybe work or study. And my thing was, if I was working, I wouldn’t really have the energy or, like, time to still pursue football.

So I thought, okay, let me just take the education route, and also, that’s to help me in the long run, anyway.”

Aribo got his big break at Charlton at 19, which was a different route from the normal avenues that many take to the professional ranks.

“So, I knew it would be good to go to Uni (university), and yeah, I actually struggled like, being there, I didn’t want to be there ever. So I’d be late and stuff, so it just got to a point I couldn’t keep up. I signed for Charlton just before my 19th birthday.

“Marcus Gayle had like a big impact on me. Not even just like, because he got me that trial, but just as a person. He helped me grow on and off the field, you know? He was, like, really good to me. We weren’t doing well as a team, though, so he ended up getting sacked and that’s when he said to me, “make me that promise that you’re going to become a pro”.

“Marcus Gayle said to me he has a friend in Jason Euell, you know. He’s going to get me a trial at Charlton. So, I’ve gone from I’m gonna quit football to now I’ve got trial, all of a sudden. So yeah, it’s a massive impact that he had on me as my first ever trial.

“It was my first ever trial. So it was like, wow, like, and there were some big players there. You know, Charlton’s got a good academy. I’ve always had that self-belief in myself, but I remember going into the trial thinking, let’s just see what it gets you.

“Do you know what I mean? I didn’t have full belief in myself, I just thought, okay, it’s like your last chance. If you don’t, then we’re just gonna stop playing football. Of course, like, I’m always thankful for the position I’m in to God, you, I’m thankful for everything, and where I am today. Even being alive and what not! That time we won at Wembley was like, up there, with my greatest moments in football. Cause you know, that’s like the first major one I ever got to experience was Wembley, you know?”

In three years, since 2019, when he joined Rangers under Steven Gerrard’s management, Aribo has won a league title, become an international with Nigeria, and missed European glory by whiskers.

“Playing under Steven Gerrard was amazing. He was a big fan of me joining because I felt wanted. Like, you know. He’d banter with me. He was just like really good to me.

“Even off the field, if I was out of form or I didn’t see myself on the training ground, he would notice it and he would come and pull me, speak to me in his office. So yeah, he was really good to me.

“In terms of the Nigeria call-up, I’ll never forget the first time I got called up-like it was a crazy feeling.”

And then Aribo wore the No.10 shirt in his first Eagles’ appearance against Ukraine.

“And I remember the first game, it was against Ukraine and like where everyone sitting in front of a number, and I got given the 10. So even in myself, I’m sitting there thinking, is this my shirt?

“Like, I didn’t even put my stuff down. I was waiting for someone to actually tell me like, yeah, you’re wearing the 10. So yeah, I was just like, it’s a crazy feeling because you know what the 10 means to Nigeria.

“So many big players have worn it, like even players I’ve looked up to growing up. So, that season was, like honestly, crazy.”

Southampton kick off their 2022/23 season on August 6, away to Tottenham.