Nigerian football faithful may have been jolted by Victor Moses’s sudden retirement from international football. But should anybody be shocked if skipper Mikel Obi calls time on his international career any moment from now?
We think Mikel’s international retirement is imminent. The signs are there. Everything is pointing in that direction.
Naturally, the motivation isn’t there anymore. If there is any further motivation for him to keep playing, it could be tied to the 2019 AFCON.
In Moses’s valedictory note, he pointed out that he has achieved so much within an international career that spanned six years.
His words; “There are so many highlights that standout for me over the years; from making my debut to playing in two World Cups and being a part of the team to win African Nations Cup for first time for our nation since 1994 being just a few of them”.
These were just in six years of international football where he amassed 34 caps. Mikel was part of all these accomplishments listed by Moses and even more considering he has been on the scene as a full international for 13 years.
From his junior international days where he won silver at the U20 World Cup in 2005 and being named second Most Valuable Player behind Lionel Messi, he also has an AFCON bronze medal (2010) and Olympic bronze medal (2016) added to these feats enumerated by Moses.
There was an extra attraction occasioned by a quest to captain Nigeria at the World Cup. He achieved that in Russia.
The next push should be to wear the captain’s band at AFCON and possibly mount the podium to lift the trophy despite the fact that he was an AFCON winner in 2013. Lifting the AFCON as captain is well within reach in 2019.
Another motivation should be to join Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama in the exalted list of Nigerians with a century of caps and possibly surpass them by a cap or two. From his debut against Libya in Tripoli on August 17, 2005 till date, he has 86 caps with six goals.
A breakdown shows that Super Eagles had won 41, drawn 25 and lost 20 of those matches Mikel featured in. Nineteen of those matches were friendlies; 19 in World Cup qualifiers; 18 in AFCON qualifiers; 20 in AFCON; 7 at the World Cup and 3 at the Confederations Cup. This distribution shows that Mikel has played in every possible international tournament.
Now, he is 14 caps from being a centurion and a couple more to be the most capped Nigerian ever, that is if he desires to go that far.
Assuming he is driven by all these, they are attainable within two years. He could also decide to call it a day after the AFCON in 2019. He was recently quoted as saying he has shelved international retirement plans ‘for now’.
Meanwhile, sometimes, the soul could be willing, but the body wouldn’t. Mikel’s recent injury worries will also play a key role in how soon he decides to limit his football career to the club level.
That announcement is by the corner and we shouldn’t be taken by surprise. The team is built around him and the sooner the technical crew starts de-emphasising on him, the better.
There is need to gradually bring to the fore, a new midfield general. They need to encourage and groom more leaders in the team that will step up post-Mikel.
This could be done with or without him on the pitch. Any match where he is unavailable provides the opportunity to see how we can cope without him.
In the history of world football, national teams suffered after the retirement of great number 10s. Mikel may not be the greatest to don this number in the land. In fact, he is not even worthy to untie the boots of the great Austin ‘JJ’ Okocha, Friday Ekpo or Henry Nwosu.
But he will be badly missed by this generation of Eagles when he finally drops that revered jersey number. He has been so influential and his exit will be one of the most felt in recent times. Efforts should, therefore, be geared towards cushioning the effect of an imminent announcement.
A heavy rain that announced its coming shouldn’t fall on us. So Naija Sports Grill’s position is that we should start preparing for life without Mikel.