John Mikel Obi surprisingly didn’t feature in Super Eagles’ 2-0 win over Swaziland yesterday at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt.
Obi, who is one of Nigeria’s best exports, was dropped by Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh for both home and away legs of the encounter.
Interestingly, Oliseh didn’t pick Mikel in the squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania in Dar es Salaam back in September, citing he was snubbed by Mikel during his trip to the UK.
“I put a call through to John Obi Mikel. I called him four times, the phone kept ringing. I sent him a text message, I got no response.” Oliseh said back in July.
This has raised some eyebrows, with many believing there may be no love lost between the player and the coach whilst others believe Oliseh is only trying to send a big message to the senior players that nobody is undroppable in his team.
To be fair to Oliseh, the trio of Sylvester Igbonu, Ogenyi Onazi and Paul Onobi put in a wonderful performance in the middle of the park in his absence and it remains to be seen how he will crawl into the team after this.
Mikel has been accustomed to spending time on the bench at club level after he was displaced in Chelsea midfield by Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic but it is rare for him not to feature for the national team when fully fit.
Mikel has had a love-hate affair with Nigerian fans since his first appearance for Nigeria as a precocious young talent in the 2003 Golden Eaglets’ team.
The fans recognise the fact that he is Nigeria’s best player at the moment but he has been accused, on different occasions, of not trying hard enough for the national team.
Ever since his protracted move to Chelsea after the 2005 World Youth Championships in Netherlands where he helped Nigeria finish second behind Lionel Messi-led Argentina, many believe his game has taken a nose-dive.
He started out as an attacking midfielder but on arriving at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho converted him to a holding midfielder as a deputy to the ageing Claude Makelele.
Perhaps, therein lies the problem. Despite this switch from an attacking position to a defensive role at club level, Nigerian coaches continue to use him as a playmaker with Ogenyi Onazi burdened with the task of doing the dirty work for him.
Nigeria may benefit from playing Mikel in his “usual” position that has seen him win 13 major honours thus becoming Nigeria’s second most-decorated footballer ever behind Kanu Nwankwo.
Mikel has had a stellar career and still has a lot to offer the Super Eagles in terms of experience, guidance and creativity apart from his football skills.