Mikel leads Nigerian rebirth

In recent years Nigeria have missed the spark to ignite a talented squad of players. At AFCON 2013 they’ve found it in John Mikel Obi.

Not the Mikel that Nigeria thought they had in 2005, but a steely hybrid cast in his Chelsea mould.

His evolution over the years with Chelsea has been very interesting to watch: Mikel came to Stamford Bridge as more of an attacking midfielder, and he then turned into more of a defensive midfielder/ball-winner sitting in front of the back four.

Former Nigerian international Benedict Akwuegbu argues that he actually never had it in him to be an attacking player.

“Watch him play for Chelsea. You never see any imaginative passing from him. They didn’t coach it out. It didn’t develop.”

With the cast of players around him at Chelsea it is easier to slip the ball to Juan Mata of Eden Hazard but at this tournament Mikel has provided two assists for Emmanuel Emenike in the opening group games against Burkina Faso and Zambia.

If you look at his performances for Chelsea this season and last they show not just a forward playing and forward thinking Mikel, but a player who also understands the need to keep possession by being able to pass sideways and avoid being dispossessed.

Perfect for international football where the ball doesn’t come back to you quickly if you give it away.

Mikel also has the necessary strength of character to make him a real leader.

He turns up for the national team in the face of the most daunting criticism because he is not who people think he should be.

Remember how he had the strength to play for Chelsea whilst his father was kidnapped.

It was Mikel who strode forward to take the penalty against Zambia in the second group game.

His value is not lost on teammate Victor Moses who sums up his value to the Super Eagles.

“He is very important today to the team. He has got enough experience he’s bringing to the side. All the players have got respect for him.”


 

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