By Babajide Alaka - Deputy Editor
The issue of whether Chelsea’s Mikel Obi has a place in the Nigerian national football team, the Super Eagles continues to be a bone of contention amongst football fans, coaches and administrators in Nigeria.
There are insinuations that his absence was deeply felt in the last match against Liberia and it is no more news that the pressure exerted on Stephen Keshi has paid off as the Chelsea midfielder has been included in the squad for the return leg against Liberia on October 13 in Calabar.
While most people have already assumed that the Super Eagles will trample over the Lone Stars –I beg to differ and track back to the game against Guinea last October - the Eagles just needed a win to qualify for the Nations Cup, but what did we get, a 2-2 draw that was not good enough and led to the sack of Samson Siasia.
Now we are on the same path again. The scenario then was the coach was put under immense pressure to win the match and so players were foisted on him and what did we see, players did not give their all and the team failed to beat Guinea.
Obi, 25, has played 37 matches for the senior national team and has scored two goals since he made his debut in 2006.
So as coach of the national team, what could Keshi have done? He was placed in a situation where he was between the devil and the deep blue sea.
When Siasia invited Obi and Peter Odemwingie, the team did not perform well enough so just looking at history would have instructed Keshi not to go down that lane. It would have been better to qualify for the Nations Cup first before thinking of inviting the duo – that will make sense, though some of the players that won the qualification may end up losing their places in the team – it will not deter from the objective as there would then be a longer period for camping and bonding, but that is going too far ahead of ourselves.
But since the first leg in Monrovia a lot has happened. Keshi told Goal.com that he spoke with the Chelsea midfielder before finally including him on the list
“Mikel Obi and I spoke two or three days ago so all the noise about Mikel, Osaze [Peter Odemwingie] did this or that is unfounded," Keshi said.
“I spoke with Mikel three days ago and he told me he wants to play and he is ready to play for his country.
“We just hope that he plays his best for the country in the match against Liberia,” concluded Keshi.
Mikel | Can he be as committed in a Nigeria shirt?
So therein lies the discomfiture – Keshi is not sure of the midfielder’s commitment but has had to include him all the same. This is not good grounds for going into battle when the commander is not sure of his lieutenants –it is a recipe for disaster.However, Keshi had been advised by his former team mate Victor Ikpeba to look away from the player reccently.
"Nigeria can do without Mikel and Osaze. Nigeria is bigger than the two players and after all both players were part of the team that played against Guinea last year. And what happened,” asked Ikpeba.
"Keshi tried to call the players and their response wasn't the best and he had to take a decision. If I am Keshi I don't think I will call them to the team again.”
So Nigerians can only pray as we are wont to do – that Obi will inspire the Super Eagles to qualify for South Africa and in the process silence his critics – that is the only way out.
Is Mikel Obi ready to commit himself to his country's service like he has done time and again at Chelsea? Time will tell...