It’s almost a year since Super Eagles Captain John Mikel Obi played for Nigeria and the memories of his last appearance brings melancholy of events that took place at the SM Kirov Stadium in Saint Petersburg – the Super Eagles crashed out of the FIFA World Cup and on a personal note, the former Chelsea defensive midfielder found out on the way to St Petersburg Stadium for the World Cup group game that his father and his driver had been kidnapped at gunpoint in Nigeria. Fortunately, his father wasn’t shot and he was able to secure his release by paying the ransom demanded. Since that fateful day in Russia, the soccer loving West African nation fans haven’t seen their captain represent his fatherland. His reasons for taking time off the team were discussed by the national team handlers during press briefings but it appears Mikel is ready to return after meeting with the coaching staff of the Super Eagles in London recently.
The Middlesbrough midfield man returned to English football after a two-year stint in Chinese football playing for Tianjin TEDA. Mikel played 31 official games for the Chinese outfit in his two years before securing a short term contract with English Championship outfit – Middlesbrough in January. His current contract runs out in June and he has signified his intention to continue plying his trade in England where his family is based. Mikel has featured regularly for Tony Pulis team since he joined in January and skippered the Smoggies in two league games against Hull City and Bolton Wanderers in April.
With regular playing time for his new club in the same division where Oghenekaro Etebo plays, should Mikel be recalled back to the Super Eagles? Following recent meeting with the coaching staff, a top NFF official in a frank “off-the-record” discussion wondered if it wouldn’t be disruptive for Mikel to return after being absent from the team for almost a year and missing a larger chunk of 2019 AFCON qualification series. The senior official was critical of Mikel’s attitude to his colleagues and officials during the self-imposed absence. It is on record that Mikel in his younger days appeared to select international games he would feature in – In 2007, Mikel was suspended from all Nigerian national teams after manager Berti Vogts dropped him from the team’s squad for the AFCON qualifier against Niger for failing to attend their previous match against Uganda. Mikel cited an injury, but because he did not attend an independent check by Nigerian officials, he was dropped. He had similar incident with the 2008 Olympic team coach Samson Siasia who dropped him from the Olympic squad.
It hasn’t been all controversies with the skipper, he has shown maturity with age. Mikel was a key player for Nigeria in 2013 AFCON enroute his country winning a third continental title. He was named in the CAF team of the tournament alongside teammates Vincent Enyeama, Efe Ambrose, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike. Also, he won the man of the match award on his FIFA World Cup debut in the Super Eagles opening game against Iran at 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Furthermore, Mikel captained the 2016 Rio Olympic football team to clinch Bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
2019 AFCON is less six weeks; the decision to include Mikel Obi and whether he will regain the captain’s band is purely down to the Super Eagles head coach, Gernot Rohr, who is expected to name his 26-man AFCON preliminary squad this week. Should the German tactician include him on the list? Can the Super Eagles soar in Egypt without their leader and midfield maestro?
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