After months of speculations on whether he would ever return to the Super Eagles after a long ‘sabbatical’ from the national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Mikel Obi is now back in the Eagles fold as he was listed in the Nigerian team that will prosecute the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations slated for Egypt
The Super Eagles Captain Mikel Obi asked to be exempted from the national team after the Super Eagles’ exit from the World Cup in Russia last June so as to have time to concentrate on his club career, which was granted by the Super Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr.
However, when his absence was taking longer than necessary, speculations became rife that the former Chelsea of England midfielder may have bid a final bye to the team, considering he missed Nigeria’s last seven games, including five qualifying matches of the AFCON in Egypt.
Indeed, it reached a level with Obi failing to fix any particular date on his much-expected return to the Super Eagles that the Franco-German gaffer had declared in a media chat in January that he does not know the former Teda star’s schedule.
Earlier this month, however, Rohr was in England to meet with Obi after which things were sorted out.
Rohr speaking to BBC before his England trip, the 65-year-old former Bayern Munich defender said: ‘’This is the question that I and my team will resolve. I will soon go to see him at Middlesbrough. There are many things to consider but I respect him and what he has done for Nigeria. He remains an important player.’’
Ex-Bordeaux and Gabon boss said: ‘’He has been away from the team for a year but we qualified for the AFCON without him. His absence, as our captain, has been evident. But he has had to deal with a range of issues, after the World Cup in Russia.’’
Unsurprisingly, Rohr on Tuesday listed midfielder Obi in a 25-man squad to prepare for the 32nd AFCON finals in Egypt.
Before now, former Super Eagles winger, Finidi George had 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 Nigeria legend, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, had earlier warned Rohr that Obi still remained relevant to the national team, comparing him to 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.”
After leaving Chinese Super League side Tianjin Teda earlier this year, Mikel joined Championship side, Middlesbrough, a move Rohr said 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 cast 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 in 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 made his debut for the Nigerian senior team on August 17 2005, in a 1- 0 friendly win over Libya and Chelsea legend has will be gunning for his fifth AFCON appearances.