The Super Eagles play Libya in a double header of AFCON ’19 qualifiers with skipper John Mikel Obi not involved in the squad. Just as he was not last time around vs Seychelles.
Conflicting reports say the national team manager Gernot Rohr “has arranged to excuse him” from these matches. As he did for the previous encounter with Seychelles last month. Other reports say that Mikel was not fit as he did not feature in his club’s last round of league matches.
If we back up to the matches before the Russia based last FIFA World Cup, then we can see that there is a pattern. The skipper tends to pick and choose which games he will play in.
The friendlies against Senegal and Serbia in London he was not involved. The prestige friendly in Krasnodar Vs Argentina he did turn up but not against Poland in Wroclaw. Against England at Wembley he was involved. These were friendlies.
For the same to apply to vital qualification programmes I find puzzling. In my many years of following the Nigeria Super Eagles I can’t recall a time when a player was so important and powerful enough to choose the qualification matches he will be involved in.
The most influential Nigerian player in my lifetime was Stephen Keshi and he was at his peak in the years before the international calendar that mandated clubs to release players for matches. The coaches at the time never gave him the choice of picking and choosing what matches he will be involved in.
So, this team without Mikel, plough through the qualifiers and get to the tournament, one of the players who has been travelling with the team will be dropped for him in the final squad? How will that even be fair?
I am deeply disappointed that very few see how wrong this is in a team sport like football. The coaching crew are basically telling the others that we have players that are more important than others.
If a player A says he does not want to travel to Tunisia for the Libya return but will be available for the game in South Africa how will Rohr look him in the face and say “I’m sorry you can’t pick and choose”. Or words to that effect?
And this is not about the team being “able to beat teams like Seychelles and Libya without Mikel”. It is about equality and fair play, values that are essential when and wherever human beings gather. More so in sports and team sports.
France are the current World Champions and yet all their players who won the World Cup turn up for the European Nations Championships matches. Those are the values Nigeria should be striving for.
If Mikel wants to retire from the national team then he should retire and we will celebrate him. Having played at 2 FIFA World Cups and starred in the team that won the AFCON in 2013, he has served the country meritoriously.
Having not retired, he should not be allowed to pick and choose what matches he will play in. That is not right in any way.