John Obi Mikel
It was quite inevitable, sooner rather than later that John Obi Mikel would return to the Super Eagles fold.
Arguably the nation’s most high profile ‘exile’, the 25-year-old midfielder had not featured in the national team set up since Stephen Keshi replaced Samson Siasia has Eagles coach last year.
For many it was an unbelievable that Mikel could turn out regularly for the European champions, Chelsea and yet could not make it into the Nigerian national team, which in truth is dearth of the calibre of players of old.
But that was the prerogative of Keshi, who played with distinction for the national team, and who immediately being appointed told Nigerians that he would be building his team on home-based players so that he is not held to ransom by their foreign counterparts.
However, despite this announcement and the fact that he is on the verge of qualifying for next year’s Nations Cup final (failure to qualify for Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012 opened the way for his appointment in the first case) many Nigerians still clamoured for the return of the former junior international, perhaps not satisfied with the current Eagles midfield.
Although strenuously denied, it was also very clear that the powers that be (NFF officials) were also equally miffed that the former Lyn of Oslo star could play regularly in the very competitive UEFA Champions League and not for Keshi’s Eagles!
However, while there is no denying that Mikel is a quality player, after all he is still at Chelsea while Michael Essien has been shipped out to Real Madrid; let us also not forget the adage that ‘a tree does not make a forest’.
Mikel is just one player amongst a collection of 10 others who make up a team (18 if you include the bench) and is thus only as good as the parts that make up the whole. It only needs one part to fail to do his job well for the whole good work of the team to unravel as was the case in the Eagles’ last South Africa 2013 qualifier against the Lone Star when an error by Vincent Enyeama meant that three points which the team was on course to claim in Monrovia turned into one point.
Again I’m not trying to blame the former Enyimba shot stopper after all but for his heroics at South Africa 2010 World Cup, Argentina would have run away with a basket of goals. In the end after resolutely denying World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi any chance to shine with a goal, the Eagles ‘only lost 1-0’ in their opening group game largely courtesy of their keeper.
Which brings me to the point I’m trying to make a machine is only as good as its parts.
So while it’s good to welcome Mikel back into the Super Eagles fold, the same Nigerians who have been clamouring for his return should therefore not turn on him should things not go as expected.
They should not forget that he will need time to gel with his ‘new’ mates in the national team. Besides even in Chelsea, Mikel is no longer the flamboyant midfielder that made him the second best player behind Messi at the 2005 Junior World Cup. Then he dictated the tempo of game playing as an offensive midfielder.
‘Unfortunately’ former Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho who battled Manchester United supremo, Alex Ferguson for the former Flying Eagle star, felt he would best suit his game plan for the Blues by getting him to jettison the flair part of his game for a more ‘dirty’ role as an enforcer sitting infront of his back four.
And thus Mourinho’s gain has been a loss for Nigeria in the sense that perhaps had Mikel not been converted he would still have been up there being mentioned in the same breath as the player that beat him to the Holland 2005 Junior World Cup; while at the same time giving the Eagles the guile that has been missing since the retirement of players like Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo.
Mikel’s return has also given Keshi another headache – does he keep Obi in the role he plays for Chelsea or does he try to push him forward like Siasia and Shaibu Amodu did, with not too impressive results?
So while welcoming Mikel back, fans should not expect him to become another Diego Maradona and virtually single handidly run the show for the Eagles against Liberia next weekend in Calabar.
Right now what is important is for the players to band together and give us the result we all crave for – which is the ticket to next January’s Nations Cup finals in South Africa whether it’s a ‘Mikel show’ or a ‘Mikel no show’!