John Mikel Obi
By Olawale Ajimotokan
Major partners of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) are ruing the continued exclusion of John Mikel Obi from the national team and have expressed their worries to the federation.
Mikel was sensationally omitted from the roster of foreign based players for the trip to Monrovia by Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi for the Africa Cup of Nations cracker against Liberia on September 8.
But the first hand information we were served Tuesday, highlighted that the exclusion of Mikel and some regular stalwarts from the national fold was not going well with some sponsors of the national team.
The partners think that Mikel’s absence from the Eagles was not helping them in convening their products’ brand attributes to their markets which can be reached through football.
Some of the sponsors feel that it is not a good business strategy for Mikel, who plays for Chelsea, the current holders of the UEFA Champions League title and one of the top teams in the English Premier League, to be left out of the Nigerian national team setting.
Mikel is on board as a brand ambassador of a manufacturer that commands a major share in the local and West African electronic and hand set market.
But at best, his relation with national coach Keshi and the members of the technical crew is frosty as the coaches appear to ready execute their team building mission without the holding midfielder.
The strange but hard truth is that Mikel is an outsider in the Super Eagles when considered that the Chelsea star is yet to make a single appearance for the team in any of the 10 matches played by Nigeria under Keshi’s watch since November 2011.
The last time he appeared in a Nigerian shirt was in the friendly match against Ghana in London on October 11 2011.
Instructively, the match was Samson Siasia’s last game in charge of the Eagles before he was sacked by the NFF following the failure of the Eagles to reach the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Essentially, sources have pinpointed Mikel fractious attitude in national camp and his penchant to select the games he wants to play as the cause of his friction with Keshi and by extension the ground on which he is no longer invited to the national team.
And gazing at the horizon, there are signals that Keshi might leave the defensive midfielder out of the expanded squad for the Nations Cup in South Africa in January next year, if Nigeria secures a place to the tournament.
This is so as Mikel has never been a part of Keshi’s programme who thinks it will be unfair to accommodate him at the expense of other committed players.
It would be recalled that a crisis of confidence blew to the open between Keshi and the Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Chris Green, following the insistence of the latter in the inclusion of Mikel and Ozaze Odemwengie in the list of players summoned for Liberia.
But national sponsors are now fighting the cause for Mikel by pressuring the federation to invite him largely on commercial consideration.