Another trophy will be a fine way to say goodbye, says Mikel
John Obi Mikel was the youngest player in the Nigerian camp when the Super Eagles competed in the 2006 African Nations Cup in Egypt. Then subject of an acrimonious ownership battle between Manchester United and Chelsea, Mikel made his debut for the senior national team when he came in as a second substitute against Zimbabwe in Port Said.
It was an inspired introduction as he spent less than 10 minutes in the game when he opened his account for Nigeria.
Since then, he has been to three other championships, winning the title under Stephen Keshi in 2013. And now, the midfielder, who has been the poster boy of the Super Eagles since the likes of Austin Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo and Yakubu Aiyegbeni left the scene, is on his last leg in national service.
Many followers of the game see the current competition in Egypt as Mikel’s biggest chance of winning another trophy for Nigeria before he retires from the national team. The former Chelsea star was not part of the squad in the qualifying series to the competition. He was not even in the friendly games the team played before the last leg of preparations for Egypt, but pundits see him as the potential stabilizing factor in a team fighting for its fourth AFCON trophy.
He knows the enormity of the task before his and as team captain, Mikel has been trying to keep his colleagues focused on the task despite the hype surrounding the team.
He told the media during the team press briefing on Friday that everything was being done to ensure the Super Eagles played to their strength in all the games.
“I have been away from the team for over a year now but I was always in contact with the team and I knew the team was in good hands,” said Mikel said.
He added: “Everyone thinks we are favourites, but we are not looking at it like that… we just want to qualify and then kick on and do great things.
“The last time we were here we won, but we have missed out on a few but we are confident. There are just the three of us who have the experience but the blend in the team is good.”
On his future in the national team, Mikel said: “It is not a bad place to finish. I started here in 2006 and we came third so Egypt has always been good to me.
“This time hopefully we can do better. I am not 100 per cent sure this is my last one but maybe.”
On his sabbatical after the Russia 2018 World Cup, Mikel said: “I was always in contact with the team, coach and players. I knew everything that was going on.”
He disclosed that he wanted to play for Nigeria only when he was 100 per cent fit, adding, “The boys did well in my absence.”
Can Nigeria win the competition? “The players know what it takes to win this tournament but only three of us were in the team that won in 2013,” he said.
“It’s a very young team…there is a very good blend of young and old players, the spirit in the team is very good. We are not the clear favourites, but we can win it.”