Though his role on the field of play may have been limited by injuries, John Obi Mikel is still the Super Eagles substantive skipper at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt. The former Chelsea midfielder announced that Egypt 2019 would be his AFCON swansong.
Interestingly, the new Trabzonspor of Turkey player, having had his first international cap for Nigeria in a friendly against Libya in August 2005, made his AFCON debut at the 25th edition of the tournament hosted by Egypt in 2006.
It is much more fascinating that he has decided to end his AFCON journey where it began. He has appeared at five AFCON finals, playing a huge role in the Super Eagles’ victory in 2013.
At Egypt 2019, Mikel started the first game against Les Hirondelles of Burundi. Later in the match, Ahmed Musa replaced the Nigerian captain. In the second game against the Syli Stars of Guinea, Mikel was an unused substitute. He started the third game against the Berea of Madagascar but was again subbed off.
In Nigeria’s round of 16 and quarter-final matches against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the one-time Tianjin Teda star was also an unused substitute. Each time Mikel has found himself sitting in the dugout, Ahmed Musa has led the team’s cause on the pitch.
The probability that Gernot Rohr would start the 2012 Uefa Champions League winner in Nigeria’s last two matches in Egypt is low. The Franco-German tactician may not want to tamper with the squad that has taken Nigeria to the last four.
However, Mikel sitting on the bench could mean another AFCON triumph for the Super Eagles if history is anything to go by. Nigeria have won the AFCON on three occasions – 1980, 1994 and 2013. This writer didn’t witness the edition Nigeria hosted in 1980, so his treatise is contingent on the Super Eagles’ triumphs in 1994 and 2013.
At Tunisia’94, the late Stephen Keshi led the Super Eagles’ cause. Skippo, as the former Anderlecht defender was fondly called, played Nigeria’s first game against the Adzingo Stars of Gabon. Due to injury, he sat out the team’s remaining games against the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Leopards of Zaire, the Elephants of Ivory Coast and the K.K. Eleven of Zambia.
After the Eagles had beaten the Kalusha Bwalya-led Zambia in the final match, Keshi collected the captain’s band from Augustine Eguaveon and hoisted the AFCON trophy at Stade El-Menzah, Tunis. In fact, Skippo wore his number 4 jersey over the bottoms of his tract suit when he lifted the trophy.
At South Africa 2013, Joseph Yobo was the Super Eagles substantive captain but he also played a cameo role at the tournament. His performance wasn’t impressive in the team’s first match against the Stallions of Burkina Faso, and that, coupled with his injury, forced the team’s gaffer the late Keshi to bench the ex Everton defender in subsequent games.
In the final match against the same Stallions, Yobo played the last five minutes or so, then collected the arm’s band from Vincent Enyeama and hoisted the AFCON trophy into the Johannesburg sky splashed with fireworks.
The three men – Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi and Joseph Yobo – who led Nigeria to victories in 1980, 1994 and 2013 were central defenders. Mikel may not share this similarity with the trio, but he can take after Keshi and Yobo and lift the trophy into the Cairo sky on the nineteenth of July. Doesn’t history repeat itself?
This piece was written by Olusola Akinwale. He is a football historian and an award-winning writer. He can be tracked on Twitter @olusolaakinwale.