Should Mikel Obi play for the Eagles?

I could have titled this piece, “What is the relevance of Mikel Obi in the Super Eagles?” or “The Mikel Obi question?” or “Who needs Mikel Obi?” or lots of other things but I chose the one I chose because I got confused.

It is going to sound distasteful and downright a betrayal of some sorts that a Nigerian is even asking about the relevance of John Mikel Obi in the Nigerian national team, Super Eagles but a lot of people are.

Since after the era of the likes of Richard Owubokiri, Victor Ikpeba, Sunday Oliseh, Taribo West, and lately Nwankwo Kanu, Mikel Obi has been our highest profile player based on the club he features for regularly and the laurels he has won for that club, Chelsea.

However, Nigerians complain that his performance for the national team is a direct opposite of how he turns up for Chelsea and he has been called names like, nonchalant, not committed, disgrace and manymore expletives worse than this.

Is Mikel Obi really not committed to the Nigerian cause? Does he put in less than he does for Chelsea when he plays for Nigeria? Maybe there is a reason why John Mikel Obi has not been too outstanding for Nigeria.

Pre 2005 Mikel Obi

Many Nigerians did not watch the FIFA U 17 World Cup in Finland in 2003 but Mikel Obi did play in that team coached by Austin Eguavoen as a creative player in attacking midfield.
It was not until two years later when Samson Siasia coached the U20 team to the World Youth Championships that people saw the maestro that John Mikel Obi was.
Between Mikel Obi and Lionel Messi who played in the same competition, the world had just seen two of the best young footballers who would have gone on to dominate world football.
Nigerians began to have hope that we had finally seen a midfield replacement for Austin Jay Jay Okocha but life took a hard turn on Nigerians and their reality.
However, Messi went on to turn the wow audiences the world over but not Mikel Obi with reasons not far fetched.
Mikel Obi was snapped up by Chelsea at a time Jose Mourinho seriously wanted to create a direct replacement for the aging French defensive midfielder, Claude Makalele and Mikel turned out his man.
The smooth playing, creative and mesmerizing dribbles of Mikel began to change to man marking, shielding and hard tackling one.
It took a while but Mikel Obi sooner than later began to play the part. Even after Jose Mourinho departed from Chelsea, Avram Grant, Luis Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas Boas and Roberto Di Matteo continued to play him in defensive midfield or as we say in local parlance in Nigeria, Standing 4.

Mikel Obi in the Eagles

However, Nigerians and our coaches decided to live in the past. We refused to accept the fact that John Mikel Obi would not be that Jay Jay Okocha replacement and rather rained curses on Jose Mourinho for killing the talent of our promising footballer.
Rather than gauge Mikel Obi’s growth and compare him with the likes of Michael Carrick, Javier Macherano, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Lucas Leiva or Cheikh Tiote, Nigerians were rather arguing that he would have been at Lionel Messi’s level or even higher if his promising career was not destroyed by the Special One.
At the Super Eagles, things were not different.
Between 2006 and now, Nigeria has had Austin Eguavoen, Berti Vogts, Shaibu Amodu, Lars Lagerback, Samson Siasia and now Stephen Keshi as coaches and each one of them except Keshi has used Mikel as an offensive player.
Now I may not blame Eguavoen much because he coached the Eagles in 2006, just one three years after he coached Mikel at U17 level and one year after the whole world saw him wow audiences at the FIFA World Youth Championship.

But what excuse did the other coaches have? Mikel has averaged 39 games a season since 2006 for Chelsea so it beggared belief that our coaches always insisted he played in a “strange” position whenever he reported for national duty which was for 5 days at best each time he was here as compared to the fact that he spent the rest of the year training and playing as a defensive midfielder. That just went to show the kind of people that had coached Nigeria in the last six years.

I remember catching up with Samson Siasia at the airport last year with a friend of mine, Colin Udoh and we posed that question of where Mikel will play at the Eagles.

Siasia told us that Mikel will play at the Eagles where he plays at his club.

According to Siasia, “We do not want to confuse him. The same position he plays at his club is what he will play here.”

But on Mikel’s invitation under Siasia he was still played in attacking midfield.

The Stephen Keshi question

Since Keshi became coach of the team, he has played what looks like a 4-2-3-1 which means you do not play the conventional Makalele type defensive midfielder or “Standing 4” rather two central midfielders which defensive and creative abilities.

In one game he played what looked like a 4-2-4 but of course we know that team shapes evolve as the game wears on.

In that role he has tried Joel Obi, Dickson Etuhu, Obiora Nwankwo, Henry Uche  and Gabriel Rueben settling most times for the duo of Obiora and Rueben.

In attacking midfield he has tried Nosa Igiebor, Raheem Lawal as well as Victor Moses. He has even tried Gabriel Rueben once in attacking midfield.

Will Keshi recognize the fact that Mikel Obi is no longer Jay Jay Okocha’s replacement but our best DM/CM or will he continue to live in fool’s paradise by giving him the number 10 shirt and playing him in an offensive position?

Will Keshi just join the bandwagon or do the right thing?

Nigeria currently have a depth of riches in that position with the likes of Mikel Obi, Joel Obi, Gabriel Rueben, Obiora Nwankwo and Dickson Etuhu and I think it is right for Mikel Obi to fight for his place there than be made to play in an attacking midfield position and be expected to do the nutmegs and shimmies like Okocha would have done in his day.

I have always believed in the coaching and managerial abilities of Stephen Keshi so I will just watch whilst holding my breath to see how he plays his team against Liberia.

Mikel Obi is one of the best in the world. It will only be sensible if he is played in that position the world rates him in.

If Mikel Obi will be used as a DM/CM surely he is/ will be one of our best, but if he's going to be played as an attacker, then we really do not need him to spoil things for the team. 

Good luck Super Eagles.
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  1. Stupid article. Has Mikel been bad for the Eagles when he plays as a 10? How many goals has he assisted in when he played further up the pitch???? Where are your stats? Did you do any research???? Come on man. Writer, YOU CAN DO BETTER!

  2. Anonymous, where did the article say he has been bad. Article simply said he should play for the Eagles where he plays for his club. As simple as that. What is annoying you sef?

  3. What a poor article . One would wonder what type of journalist Nigeria produces. You just spill out your thoughts without any single FACTS. This article reads like an emotional rant .

  4. So he has not been bad but we should go put him ina position where we have more than capable replacements? How daft is that?

  5. You put him in a position he is used to. The last time he played in AM regularly was probably when he was at Lyn Oslo pre-2006. It simply makes sense that he is played there. That is the point. And yes, he has been very average with the Eagles because he is being played out of position. Now you may not agree with that because opinions differ.

  6. joel obi - mikel obi - nosa igiebor would be the best midfield.