Mikel Obi last don the colours of the national team in Nigeria’s 2-1 loss to Lionel Messi inspired Argentina in the last group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and asked to be excused from the team for a while, if the words of Nigeria national team Manager Gernot Rohr was anything to go by.
All through Super Eagles Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the former Chelsea midfielder was on ‘AWOL’, culminating insinuation in some quarters that he might have said goodbye to the team.
However, Rohr had always come to his defence, maintaining that he and Obi were in regular contact over the midfielder’s decision to regain full fitness before returning to international duty.
With Obi also failing to fix any particular date on his much-expected return to the Eagles, the Franco-German gaffer had declared in a media chat in January that he does not know the former Teda star’s schedule.
He also went on to dismiss the argument that the Super Eagles were lacking a natural number 10 in the centre of the pitch ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with the international future of Obi up in the air, the German tactician has stressed that he was not searching for a playmaker and had identified three players who could replace him if he was not available for selection
“I am not worried about it because we have a lot of players who can be natural playmakers. You know we have players like Etebo who can be a playmaker, he can also be a good defensive midfielder,” Rohr had told national television.
“We have Alex Iwobi who played in this position and did very well in Johannesburg; we have Ahmed Musa who is coming in from the left side and can give good balls and score himself. You know that it is not necessary to have this position of number 10 in modern football. Everybody must be able to make the play, to be a playmaker even the defensive midfielders or even the defenders have to give good balls and to construct the game.”
Meanwhile, former Super Eagles winger, Finidi George has called on Rohr to have a one-on-one talk with Obi to enable them reach a mutual understanding before the three-time African champions head to Egypt for the Africa Cup of Nations, stating that Obi’s experience would be of a huge advantage despite not featuring in any of the qualifiers.
“Personally, I don’t know the situation concerning his availability, but he is a respected captain and if his current form is okay, then it’s a plus for the team. He doesn’t need to play all qualifiers for him to have the opportunity to join the team.
“He could be with the team even if he doesn’t get 90 minutes in all games; he could just help them in team building because he is a player other colleagues respect and the young ones will learn from. But as a coach, you need to speak to him before the tournament and clarify his role in the tournament to avoid a possible burst up and if he agrees then for me it will be a massive boost for the country in Egypt,” Finidi told AOIFootball.com.
Another former Super Eagles player, Emmanuel Okocha, the elder brother of Nigerian legend, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, had earlier warned Rohr that Obi still remained relevant to the national team, comparing him with current Ballon d’Or holder, Luka Modric, whom he faced at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
“Look at how he performed against one of the best midfielders the game has seen at the last World Cup, he stood his ground against Luka Modric and co. and it was just unfortunate he didn’t get enough quality support from his fellow midfield players for us to come away with a better result against Croatia; against Argentina, he did very well too,” Okocha said.
“At present, we do not have many creative players in the team’s midfield and that is sad. Take a look at our midfield in that game without him. Against Seychelles, most of them were just there.”
Rohr, however, still hang on a little hope that Obi could still turn up for the AFCON, saying he hopes the Middlesbrough midfielder could lead his country to Africa Cup of Nations success later this year.
After leaving Chinese Super League side Tianjin Teda earlier this year, Obi has dropped off the international scene, yet his move to Boro could trigger a recall.
“We are happy to see our captain now playing for a big club. We hope to see him fit and playing regularly,” Rohr had said
“That’s what we want for all players. They should keep playing well with their teams and keep doing well. With Mikel playing in a tough league, maybe he can help Nigeria win the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.”
Meanwhile, while expressing his dissatisfaction with the doubts that surfaced over his Super Eagles future last year, Obi, speaking via his Nigerian intermediary Babawo Mohammed wondered how doubts over his commitments surfaced in the first place.
“The doubts over his commitments got to him because he adores playing for the Super Eagles and as captain, he wants to be a shining light for the young players in the team,” Babawo said.
“If Mikel is no longer interested playing for Nigeria he will make an official announcement but for now it’s due to injury. People should understand his commitment and love for the Super Eagles. He will no doubt support them to qualify for the Cup of Nations because he wants to play and lift it again with the Super Eagles,” he remarked.
Obi surprised bookmakers when he joined Championship side, Middlesbrough on a short term deal till the end of the season after he became a free agent in November after a two-year spell with Tianjin Teda in China.
“I spoke to a few clubs and I also spoke to Tony Pulis, had a good chat with him. He’s told me where he wants to go with it and it “The club wants to get promoted so hopefully, I’m here to help in any way I can. ‘It’s a family club and this is what I want. I like stability and this is why I was at Chelsea for a very long time.”
Pulis added: “I’m pleased to get him in. He is a man with a lot of experience and quality. He has a winning mentality and he wants to be here be a part of what we are looking to achieve.”
It, however, remains to be seen if Obi will join the team for AFCON final in Egypt or not.