Meet The ‘New And Improved’ Mikel Obi

Pius Ayinor examines Mikel Obi’s change of attitude and the impact on the Super Eagles

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After the game against Malawi last Saturday, Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi heaped praises on Super Eagles and Chelsea midfielder, Mikel Obi. Keshi said that the midfielder had been at his best under him.

Mikel made distinct impression on the field against a boastful Malawi team and was deservedly voted the Most Valuable Player in the game. For the immediate reward, he got the TomTom $5,000 set aside for the MVP.

But he was not just establishing himself as a midfielder to be relied on with the World Cup qualifying match in Calabar. He was in full control of Nigeria’s movements during the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in February. For his work rate, he and his teammates got rewarded with the African cup after a long wait since 1994. But perhaps the most enterprising outing so far in recent times for the Chelsea star remains the FIFA Confederations Cup which held in Brazil. It was a competition that brought to fore the attacking prowess of the young Nigerian.

Nigerians first knew Mikel as an attacking midfielder with the national U-17 and U-20 teams but he soon became a midfielder who hardly had any business with the attack formation when he joined Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. But under Keshi, Mikel has played a more attacking position from the midfield than the defensive role he plays for Chelsea and he fully underlined it with his attacking posture during the FIFA event in Brazil. And remarkably, he scored the country’s goal in the 2-1 loss to Uruguay.

The positive review Mikel is receiving now has come after so much waiting. His lack of presence with the national team had made him quite unpopular with Nigerians. He was derided, dubbed unpatriotic and called names in the years past. Even when Keshi first took charge of the Eagles in November 2011, the midfielder, continued with the lack of commitment for the national team. Mikel stayed away from the two friendlies against Botswana and Zambia – the games with which Keshi started. He was out due to injury but many Nigerians accepted the excuse with doubts. It was not until several months later that he finally played for the Super Eagles and the relationship with the team managers and Nigerians in general has moved from lukewarm to something hotter.

His new disposition has made some fans of the Eagles to call for his elevation to position of the team captain with the continued absence of Joseph Yobo. But what could have created the new Mikel? Is it maturity or the dream for the captain’s band?

A former midfielder and 1994 African cup winner, Mutiu Adepoju, believes it is a question of maturity rather than any other factor that has changed Mikel.

He said, “For me, it has to do with maturity; I don’t see the captain’s angle to what we see of Mikel now. People mature with time and he is not different.

“His club environment could have had positive impact on him largely. As you know, he plays alongside mainly national team players of other countries and the way they have responded to national team duties over the years must have made quite some remarkable impact on him. Mikel now has the understanding that it is a thing of pride to play for one’s country and he is exhibiting real maturity and leadership.

“When a senior player like him behaves in such a positive manner, it has a way of touching the up and coming ones. The younger ones will simply watch the behaviour of the senior ones and emulate them. And so whichever direction the senior ones turn, they will likely follow.”

Adepoju who played professionally in Spain added, “I understand he really showed leadership on and off the pitch during the Nations Cup in South Africa. He was the first to get to anywhere they were asked to go. Winning the African cup could not have come from nothing. The change is surely one of the best things happening to the Eagles right now.”

Nigerians are surely waiting to see if the change will be permanent or could go with the wind.

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