Why Obi Mikel & Chukwueze were left out of the Nigerian squad for the upcoming AFCON Qualifier

The most notable omissions from the latest Nigerian national team squad include the captain, John Obi Mikel and the young sensation Samuel Chukwueze. The Super Eagles are to play a 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier and international friendlies during the international break this week. We analyse if it’s a cause for concern for the former Chelsea player and whether Chukwueze will ever be considered in the future.

John Obi Mikel

John Obi Mikel of Nigeria drives the ball during an international friendly match between Argentina and Nigeria at Krasnodar Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Krasnodar, Russia.  (Nov. 14, 2017 - Source: Epsilon/Getty Images Europe)

John Obi Mikel of Nigeria drives the ball during an international friendly match between Argentina and Nigeria at Krasnodar Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Krasnodar, Russia.

(Nov. 14, 2017 - Source: Epsilon/Getty Images Europe)

There are three important pointers to John Obi Mikel’s situation:

  1. Obi’s move to Middlesbrough. The Nigerian captain decided to move back to England from the Chinese Super League in the wake of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The player became a free agent in November after representing Tianjin TEDA for almost two years. He has been trying to get back to his best competing in a more challenging competition and his move to Middlesbrough presented him that opportunity. He, however, has to adapt to the league which is probably why the Nigerian coach, Gernot Rohr, omitted him for the upcoming matches. Managers are supposed to take care of their players and make sure they are in their element for the team to succeed. Rohr probably saw the need to give Obi Mikel some time to allow his smooth transition to the English Championship before calling him back up to the squad.

  2. Current form. To be honest, his form has not been great. For a manager to justify the decision of calling up a player to the national team, the primary indicator that everyone looks at, is the player’s current form. Mikel has played only 7 matches since November 2018 which can arguably suggest a lack of match fitness. Also, in those 7 matches, he has been far from his best recording an average of 1 interception, 1.3 clearances and a little over 2 tackles per match as part of his defensive contribution. Whereas, other players in his position like Wilfred Ndidi are clocking 5 tackles, 4 interceptions and 2 clearances per match. Clearly, Obinna Mikel has not done enough to warrant a call up. Picking Obi Mikel in a team with players working their socks off like Ndidi would not make sense to the public eye.

  3. His Age. This can not go unmentioned. John Obi Mikel is not young anymore. He's a 31-year old defensive midfielder who is not playing in a top-flight football league. Relying on a player of his age should be concerning for a country like Nigeria who pride themselves in developing a sustained pool of talented African players. Instead of relying on an old horse, the country should be preparing for life after the player who captained the Super Eagles at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, hence the omission from the latest squad announced by Gernot Rohr. It might be that they don't see him as an integral part of the team which should be fine considering the player is winding down his career.

I'm not really surprised at the decision after considering these three pointers. The odds have not been on Obi’s favor of late.

Samuel Chukwueze

For the young kind, we also have three points that should be considered:

  1. Chukwueze’s competition. Before we cause a scene on social media, we need to look at the players that have been picked by Rohr ahead of the Villarreal player. Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Henry Onyekuru and Samuel Kalu have all been in better form than the young wing-wizard who is plying his trade in the Spanish La Liga. If he had scored and assisted a couple of more goals, Samuel Chukwueze would be giving Gernot Rohr a headache on whether or not to start him ahead of the rest.

  2. Style of Play. This is a tricky one. There are players that are a joy to watch and Chukwueze is one of them. He has the confidence of carrying the ball and running at defenders which keeps fans at the edge of their seats. If anything, Chukwueze has been the closest thing to Victor Moses at his prime when he had the swagger of pulling out a trick or two to beat defenders before rushing into the box. However, one has to consider if these attributes are what the team needs. On the pitch, the team needs balance and this requires a lot from the players. Chukwueze lacks the defensive edge as well as crossing abilities which are a must for a modern day winger. Although he can pull some magic out of nowhere, the player is still growing in the basics that warrant a player of a starting berth, which is why Rohr might have opted not to include him this time around.

  3. His Age. At 20-years, Chukwueze definitely has a lot to learn. He is far from being the finished product, meaning he has a lot of time to work on his weaknesses and make a claim for a place in the Super Eagles squad. It's too soon to be worried about his lack of involvement in the national team but with a few more stellar performances like the one against Real Madrid, we will stop caring about his age and demand his presence in the starting team like Mbappe in the French national team.

Chukwueze’s competition. Before we cause a scene on social media, we need to look at the players that have been picked by Rohr ahead of the Villarreal player. Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Henry Onyekuru and Samuel Kalu have all been in better form than the young wing-wizard who is plying his trade in the Spanish La Liga.
— Tinotenda Magiya, FirstTouch Africa

Nigeria have already qualified for the 2019 AFCON finals to be played between June-July in Egypt. They will welcome Seychelles for their final group game whereas South Africa and Libya have all to play for as thy cross swords to determine the second finalist from the group.