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John Mikel Obi: Nigeria and Chelsea star deserves more credit


GOAL COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga      Follow on Twitter
 

With a place at next year’s African Cup of Nations in Gabon already lost, the clash between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Taifa Stars of Tanzania at the Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo was nothing but a mere formality.

It was a start to life for new coach Gernot Rohr with the German fielding a very strong XI, although it seemed as though the evening would end in disappointment with various glorious chances missed.

Kelechi Iheanacho ultimately saved face with a 77th-minute winner which could put the Manchester City youngster in contention to start the Derby this weekend.

While credit must go to Iheanacho for saving the day, John Obi Mikel also deserves praise after a sterling midfield display where he hardly put a put a foot wrong.

Mikel, for much of his career, has been subject to criticism about his abilities but Saturday’s performance was a reminder of the value he brings to the team. He is the most senior player in the current squad and, at 29, looks set to add more caps over the coming years and potentially even surpass Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo’s record 101 appearances in the green jersey.

 

The experienced campaigner is also the second most senior player at Chelsea where only captain John Terry has more appearances in the royal blue shirt than the Nigerian’s 372 outings.

One could argue that a bulk of that number came from the bench but it can’t be denied that the former Lyn Oslo man has risen up to the occasion when it mattered most, as an integral part of Chelsea’s resurgence under Hiddink last season after spending the first half of the campaign in the bottom half of the log.

He was equally an important figure in the Uefa Champions League triumph of 2012 and, with English Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Uefa Champions League, Europa League and Africa Cup of Nations winner’s medals in his cabinet, Mikel is one of Nigeria and Africa’s finest players.    

Mikel stats 2015-16

He is the only player from the successful Under-20 side at the 2005 Fifa World Youth Championship to remain in the senior side as contemporaries such as Taiye Taiwo, Chinedu Obasi, Isaac Promise, Sani Kaita, Solomon Okoronkwo have faded from the spotlight and are no longer viable options.

While once-upon-a-time hot shots like Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, John Utaka, Ikechukwu Uche, Obinna Nsofor and Onyekachi Apam are nowhere to be seen in the Super Eagles setup, Mikel remains.

Mikel’s inclusion as one of the over-aged players in the Dream Team VI at the Olympics was criticised—particularly after he was named captain—but the player was ultimately a catalyst for the successes of Samson Siasia’s side in Rio.

If he wasn’t good enough, then there’s no way he’d still be in the limelight for the Eagles and still on the books at Stamford Bridge.

Perhaps he’s not a world-class operator, but he gets the job done when required and, while he may be entering a murky future at club level, he looks set to be a key man in Gernot Rohr’s new era.

Some Nigerians will continue to complain, but expect one of the nation’s and Africa’s most decorated players to continue to silence critics as he racks up the accolades over the coming seasons.