The former Chelsea midfielder has announced his intention to retire after the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, bringing it full circle to where it all started for him on the intercontinental stage.
The 32-year-old skipper has only played a bit-part role in Egypt 2019, partly due to his injuries but yet the Super Eagles are in the quarterfinals again.
Whatever happens at this competition, whether Nigeria wins or are dumped out by South Africa, Mikel Obi would have cemented his spot as one of the greatest players to ever put on the green and white.
But where exactly is the Jos-born midfielder place in the all-time ranking of Nigeria’s finest? Better than the mercurial Austin Okocha? Greater than the mythical Nwankwo Kanu?
Is John Obi Mikel the best Nigerian player ever?
He definitely has a solid claim to that tag. Mikel Obi has been the biggest football ambassador of a country of 200+ million people this past decade or so and has been the captain of the Super Eagles for a sizeable chunk of that.
In that time, aside from lifting numerous trophies with English side Chelsea, he also skippered the country to the African Cup of Nations title in 2013, making the Team of the Tournament. That triumph elevated him to the special class of greats like Christian Chukwu and Stephen Keshi (the Good Lord bless his soul) who achieved same in 1980 and 1994 respectively.
How do you become great?
To be a Nigerian great, you must have performed as well as, if not achieved more than, these legends: Segun Odegbami Christian Chukwu, Rashidi Yekini, Joseph Yobo, and Austin Okocha. And to be the greatest, you must have surpassed the greatest of them all: Nwankwo Kanu.
No matter what haters say, Mikel Obi is a Nigerian football great. A trophy cabinet that contains a UEFA Champions League, an Olympics bronze medal, 3 FA Cups and 2 Premier League titles is not that of a mean man. Only a legendary footballer could have garnered that.
One needs, though, to have much more than that, as unimaginable as that sounds, to beat Papilo’s trophy haul.
The gangling former Arsenal forward, apart from winning two EPL titles, was also a part of that ‘Invincibles” that went on to complete league season unbeaten.
Kanu won the U-17 World Cup, the UEFA Champions League and an Olympics Gold medal while he was still in his teens. He fulfilled all the promise he showed as a teenager by going onto be regarded as one of the greatest players in African football history, despite never winning the Afcon title.
To be mentioned in the same breath as Kanu, Mikel Obi will have to win at least two African Footballer of the Year awards before he finally hangs up his boots.
Importantly, it must be made crystal clear where Mikel Obi stands in the Super (or Green) Eagles’ Hall of Fame. In terms of most appearances: Joseph Yobo is ahead of him. Most talented/skilful: he trails J J Okocha. Most titles won: Mr Kanu floors him. Most inspirational captain: Stephen Keshi takes that. Most goals: Rashidi Yekini has no rival.
Mikel has given his all to this much-beloved country of ours and for that, we’ll be eternally grateful. But to place him ahead of those whose sacrifices paved the way for his noble feats would be unjustifiable and vile.
I trust that even Mr John Mikel Obi would not want that.