Here is an opinion by Calvin Emeka Onwuka, this piece was originally published on thecable.ng and also made goal.com front page.
In my little over four decades on this earth, I have been fortunate enough to witness great footballers that have
worn Nigeria’s colours. Players that, as a kid, used to make me run out to attempt some of the stuff they did on our street in Surulere,
Lagos, and later on our fields in Festac Town. This is not really about them. For now. When, in 2005, Samson Siasia took the Super Eaglets to that year’s U-20 World Cup, I kept on reading and hearing about one player particularly destined for greatness.
I was intrigued when I saw who John Obi Mikel. In every game I watched the team play I struggled to see what the fuss was about. However, I was determined to give him the benefit of the doubt as I thought I was judging him by ridiculously high standards.
I am sorry to report that I was not. Mikel is as ordinary or as regular a footballer as it is possible to come across. He is, at best, a functional one who can play a role that is as technically and physically limiting as the one he has made a career out of at Chelsea Football Club.
It is, therefore, a deep mystery to me how a footballer so limited, from a country that has produced the likes of Segun Odegbami, Henry Nwosu, Etim Esin, Kanu Nwankwo, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Samson Siasia and a host of others can, for so long, be blindly accepted as being ‘great’.
When Nigeria won the Cup of Nations in South Africa, while he contributed very little creatively, he at least did a lot of spade work in marking and tracking back. His sensational block to deny Lacina Traore in the second half as the Ivory Coast tried for the equaliser in the quarter-final particularly stands out.
At this summer’s World Cup, barring a few minutes in the second half against Argentina, Mikel was by far Nigeria’s
worst player. He did nothing creatively.
He did nothing defensively. He gave the air that playing for Nigeria was beneath him. One of the worst sights at this tournament, for me, was watching him give away possession, yet again, and
then make no attempt whatsoever to try and recover the ball back or even chase back to get into position. This happened in every match.
Against France, he lost possession in Nigeria’s half no less than three times in the opening 45 minutes. Each occasion could have led to concession of goals but, mercifully, did not. I
watched, on each occasion, to see if he would hold his hands up to apologise to his colleagues. He never did, or at least I
never saw him do it.
At Chelsea, he would be quick to apologise, clearly for the fans to see he has acknowledged his mistakes.
His play was discussed all the time at the media centre in Brazil by the Nigerian journalists after every match! In one of the matches, during play, I was asked by a local at half-time:
“What is wrong with Mikel?” to which I answered, “That is how he plays for Nigeria.”
The biggest indictment of the Chelsea player was that Nigeria’s game fell apart against France as soon as Ogenyi
Onazi left the pitch victim of an appalling challenge by Blaise Matuidi.
Onazi was the man who ran Nigeria’s midfield and yet Mikel wore our jersey number 10.
The power of the English Premier League has had such an effect on Nigerians that it seems that once a footballer plays in that league, he is accorded star status irrespective of his performances in a national shirt.
That is clearly the case with Mikel. Sitting with two ex-Nigeria internationals who played in midfield, I mentioned that I had never been sold on Mikel.
Initially, thinking I was trying to draw them out and make a story of it all, they were first reluctant to speak, until I
started to enumerate my reasons.
He is not quick, he is not even athletic and the worst part is that he does not have the quick feet on the ball that the likes of Austin Okocha and Samson Siasia have or had in spades. I will spare both of the former internationals in question and not reveal their names, or what exactly they think about John
Stephen Keshi failed woefully in allowing Mikel to start and complete most of the matches at this World Cup. However,
when one looks at the poverty of the bench, the departing coach probably tied his own hands with the squad he selected.
Mikel should drop Nigeria’s Number 10 jersey. He has desecrated that shirt at this World Cup and if he feels it is
beneath him to sweat, run, mark and tackle while in the Super Eagles shirt, he should please stay away altogether.
Nigeria needs only those who genuinely want to play for the country.
EDITED BY: @NellyBillz88