John Obi Mikel’s inclusion on the Super Eagles provisional squad for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt has been warmly welcomed because many believe his leadership and experience will help a young team aim for the top prize.
The Eagles were the youngest team at last year’s World Cup in Russia and they will be even younger at the forthcoming Africa Cup after experienced campaigners like Victor Moses, Elderson Echiejile and Ogenyi Onazi were left out.
Former Leicester City winger Ahmed Musa, 26, stood in as captain when Mikel did not feature throughout the 2019 Nations Cup qualifying tournament.
And now after missing out on the last two tournaments, the Eagles will parade a squad dominated by players who will be making their debuts at this final tournament.
The experience and leadership of the 32-year-old former Chelsea midfielder Mikel will therefore be invaluable as to how far the team will go in Egypt.
He has won 85 caps and scored six goals since he made his full international debut in a friendly against Libya in 2005.
This Africa Cup will be his fifth having won the competition in 2013 and also finished third in 2006 and 2010.
“We have a few very experienced players like our captain John Obi Mikel. He is one of our most important leaders,” remarked coach Gernot Rohr.
Former Nigeria international Ifeanyi Udeze said the younger players in the Eagles will look up to their captain in Egypt for inspiration.
“The young players will look up to him besides the fact that after what he showed with Middlesbrough in the English Championship this past season, he still has a place in the starting team,” he said.
“Mikel has the experience the team badly need and he is still doing well and that explains why so many top clubs are chasing to sign him now,” added another former international Chukwu Ndukwe.
He has been played as a defensive midfielder at his various clubs, but under Eagles coach Rohr he has been handed a free role just behind the main striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation that has served the team well.
In Egypt, Nigeria are expected to go past a first round group, which also has debutants Burundi and Madagascar, as they hope for a fourth continental crown and with captain Mikel spearheading the country’s aspirations.
By Samm Audu