When the provisional list for the Super Eagles was revealed there were mixed reactions to the impending return of team captain John Mikel Obi who has missed all their qualification and friendly games since their disappointing group stage exit against a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina at the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia.
Mikel’s commitment to the Super Eagles has been a sensitive topic from his youth days, there were rumours he missed call ups to the national team on purpose to get into the good graces of Jose Mourinho while at Chelsea.
The love hate relationship between Mikel and Nigerians actually stems from him taking over the creative role ‘number 10’ from Jay Jay Okocha Nigeria’s dazzling dribbling sweetheart whose record with the Super Eagles is similar compared to the hype and adulation to say the least, while his club career is mediocre and not to be mentioned in the same breath compared to the former Chelsea star.
Say what you will of Mikel, with 87 caps to his name he ranks third among the most appearances for the Super Eagles.
Importance of Experience
Ahmed Musa is one of my favourite players in the Super Eagles, selfless, always available when called upon hence his 81 caps and providing some of the best moments in Nigerian football such as his brace against Argentina at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and Iceland at the 2018 FIFA World Cup to list a few.
As stand-in captain of the Super Eagles, Musa is one of the few players in the team that has been to the African Cup of Nations after being part of the set up that triumphed in 2013 alongside Mikel and Kenneth Omeruo.
Mikel’s return to the team is not a result of incompetence by Musa who will captain the team for years to come and possibly edge Segun Odegbami, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins and Ikechukwu Uche on the all time scoring list.
However in comparison to Mikel, Musa still 26-year-old falls a bit short as the former Chelsea midfielder’s experience which will be valuable to the hopes of this young Nigerian side excelling at the tournament.
Mikel’s experience playing at the pinnacle of football in Europe is unmeasurable to any of the players in the current set up. Appearances in several premier league key battles, crucial champions league encounters, Mikel has seen it and done it all.
His experience to the Super Eagles is quite frankly invaluable, while many football experts and critics have asserted no worries against group opponents Burundi, Guinea, and Madagascar, the knockout stages of the AFCON is not a cake walk.
Still reeling from a devastating goal by Marcos Rojo for Argentina in the last major outing, Mikel’s experience and motivational factor is a plus from whatever perspective at a major tournament.
Taking a look back into the history books, on three occasions where the Super Eagles have triumphed on the continental stage there has always been a guiding captain to inspire the younger troops, Christian Chukwu in 1980, Stephen Keshi in 1994 and Joseph Yobo in 2013 playing significant roles behind the scenes.
Mikel’s ‘bad boy’ reputation will not change as a football enthusiast, I sincerely hope Nigerians will appreciate him more when he retires because the disrespect towards him, when compared to Okocha and Kanu, is unfathomable as if he was less of a great.
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