2013 Afcon: Will Mikel Obi come good for Nigeria in South Africa?

The Chelsea midfielder will be hoping to replicate his good club form for the national team in South Africa

By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor

John Mikel Obi divides opinions on each side of the argument – he does not give enough versus he cannot kill himself for his country when the administrators cannot be asked to do the same.

Even at Chelsea, where he just signed a new five-year extension to his contract, the fans are divided on his usefulness to the team. So what is it that irks both the Nigerian and the Chelsea fans about Mikel?

Some Chelsea fans say, they cannot see his tangible contribution to the team and for some Nigerian fans; he strolls through most Super Eagles matches.

However, looking at the friendly match against Cape Verde last Wednesday, it seems the 24-year old is ready to wear the mantle of generalissimo of the team. Against Sparta Rotterdam in the Eagles 1-0 win, he was highly commended by the opposition coach. He needs to receive that accolade on a more regular basis with the Super Eagles if he is to finally fulfil the potential that was glimpsed in 2005 during the Fifa U-20 World Cup, in which the Flying Eagles came second to a Lionel Messi-led Argentina.

From 2005 – Present

Mikel Obi has not improved at all in the eye of his many critics since that evening in Holland when he was awarded the prize of the second best player behind Lionel Messi. After joining Chelsea, he has gone on to win many prizes with his team and finally he played his part in helping Chelsea win the ultimate club prize – the Uefa Champions League last May.

With all these achievements, one would expect the naysayers to give him some credit; but no, it will not be.  Some have said he is surrounded by world class players and his personal contributions were minimal and did not count. Perhaps winning the Nations Cup with the Eagles is what he needs to be more highly recognised.

Like the Argentine squad to the 1986 World Cup where Diego Maradona proved that he was head and shoulders above his team mates with some exceptional performances which culminated in Albiceleste winning the World Cup, it will take such a feat for Mikel to enter the pantheon of Nigerian football players.

Any average showing combined with a dismal performance by the whole team will see this ‘Chelsea superstar’ relegated to the nothings of Nigerian football.

Eric Tinkler, former Bafana Bafana does not believe that Obi can lead the Eagles to the Promised Land and also that the current Eagles do not have so many quality players.

“In midfield I am aware that [Mikel] Obi is seen as Nigeria’s leading player and star right now. But he’s not really a technically gifted midfielder. He is very good, make no mistake, but I believe he is not a Jay Jay Okocha,” Tinkler said recently.

Such statements is what Obi has to live with and he has to show that he can be as good or even better than Okocha in leading the Eagles' midfield and the team as a whole.

“We need to prepare well, be focused and take all opponents very seriously. We also need to play as a team. If it is individual qualities, we have that in abundance,” Obi said before he joined the Eagles camp in Faro, Portugal.

In essence, he was saying that Nigeria had a chance to win the Afcon in South Africa with his qualities and leadership to guard the team but his personal performances in some of the friendly matches played have not helped galvanise such confidence in the fans of the team – he and his team mates will have to go the extra mile to win back the confidence of the fans.

As the spotlight is shone on the Super Eagles, it will rest especially on Mikel as the rest of Africa and the world wait to see whether the Green Phoenix will rise to its exalted position.

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