Inspired by Bayern: Building Nigeria around Mikel

This article examines the potential of building the Super Eagles around the creative talents of the Chelsea man in the style of the German champions

By Ude Ikenna Ezekiel

Often we hear coaches of different sides talk about "building the team" around a particular player who is seen as the team’s playmaker or star man.

Teams such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have their team formation firmly constructed to suit their best players, thus giving these men a pivotal role in the side.  The ultimate purpose of building the entire team around a particular established top player in any team is to enable the player to operate from his best position in the field of play, this way the team will be able to churn out impressive results week in week out. 

The national teams are not left out in this practice, especially those that possess a generally accepted top player. Argentina, for example have finally managed to build their team around Lionel Messi ever since Alejandro Sabella took over as coach of their national team. It is little wonder that they went ahead to qualify for the World Cup with two games to spare. 

As the tournament approaches, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi must get the right midfield pattern that will best suit John Obi Mikel and will allow the Chelsea man to star as the side’s playmaker.

Mikel | Keshi needs to build the Super Eagles around him

We have seen him opt for the 4-3-3 and most recently the 4-4-1-1 formation against Mexico and Italy at the last international friendly match of 2013, only to lose the midfield battle following the introduction of Andrea Pirlo. 

Many fans have lamented the inability of the Super Eagles to produce another natural no. 10, in the mould of the great Jay-Jay Okocha. One would wonder why there is a lot of background noise about the absence of a no. 10 when there is a player like Mikel who possesses the ability to create fantastic opportunities for the team and, at the same time, deny our opponents the freedom to play their own game. 

It is of course obvious that skill vs. skill, player vs. player, Okocha is the better playmaker, however, if Mikel can replicate the same form he displayed when in that role against Spain at the Confederations Cup, few would lament Okocha’s retirement. 

Against teams with technically-sound midfield lynchpins, the team could adopt the following formation: 

The 4-3-3 formation with a double pivot: In this formation two central midfielders, one defence-minded and the other attack-minded, would work just like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez duo of the 2013 all-conquering Bayern Munich team of Juup Heynckes.

Mikel would then play in front of that pairing just like Andrea Pirlo does for the Italy team, linking with the two wingers and also supporting the main striker with defence-splitting passes up front.

Muller | Could he be inspiration for Mikel?

This formation would give Mikel a free role between the central midfielders behind him and the other attacking trio in front, knowing full well that he is not the fastest in terms of making runs into the opponent’s 18 yard box. 

This could as well work as a fusion of the No. 8 and No.10 roles which Oscar plays for Chelsea. As with the 4-3-3 formation mentioned earlier, the two central midfielders would form a shield behind Mikel. The Nigerian would then play in the No. 8 role like Thomas Muller in Heynckes’s magnificent Munich side, but would operate as a No. 10, just like Oscar does at Stamford Bridge.

In this way, he would be able to exercise his passing accuracy freely in order to feed Emmanuel Emenike or any of the wingers that could make run-ins with tailor-made passes. Who knows, he might even score another spectacular goal like the one he managed against Uruguay last summer. 

With the above formation in place, the possibilities of Mikel holding the ball for too long or slowing down the tempo of the game unnecessarily would be drastically reduced.

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