Following a career that spanned over four age teams, former Super Eagles captain John Mikel Obi announced his watch has ended with the national team.
Mikel made this announcement after the Super Eagles third-place victory over Tunisia at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
Mikel who is one of the few Nigerian players to have played for all the age-grade teams will be leaving a huge void in the Super Eagles. One of the most gifted players the country has ever seen, Mikel’s career started with the Golden Eaglets before taking the leap to the Flying Eagles where he won Silver with the team at the World Youth Championship in 2005.
He made his senior debut in 2005, while his first tournament with the senior team came at the 2006 Nations Cup in Egypt which makes it more emotional that his last tournament with the national team is also at a place where it all started.
— Soar Super Eagles (@SSE_NGA) July 17, 2019
With Mikel retiring, It means the team have to start looking for someone who will take up the number 10 role he’s played in for most of his national team career.
Although at Chelsea where he played for most of his career, he played as a defensive midfielder, his role was different at the national team where he played in a more advanced position.
Having now retired, there have been a lot of talks in the ‘Twittersphere’ and other social media platforms on who and how we can replace the 32-year-old.
As a result of these discussions, Soccernet decides to take a look at some of the players that can take up the position of the former champions league winner.
Alex Iwobi: The number one name on everybody’s lips, Iwobi was deployed in the role at the biennial tournament aside from the opening game when he operated from the wings due to Mikel’s involvement.
However, with Mikel having a bad performance that day, he was dropped for subsequent games, allowing Iwobi to take over the role. Although he scored just one goal in the tournament, the Arsenal star was praised for his confidence on the ball and his energy.
According to Whoscored, he had a pass success percentage rate of 78% which is not bad considering the way Super Eagles approached the games at the tournament.
Nevertheless, if Iwobi is to make the number 10 role his own, he will have to improve on his creative ability. The 23-year-old did not manage a single assist in the tournament and that’s poor for an attacking midfielder.
He already has the drive and zeal but will need to improve on his eye pass as that what makes a number 10 different from the rest. If he’s looking for a role model, Iwobi does not need to look further than his uncle, Austin Jay Jay Okocha who was one of the best midfielders to dorn the green and white jersey.
Kelechi Iheanacho: It’s always sad to see how Iheanacho’s career has turned out so far. He was touted as one of the next big talents not just in Nigeria but in the world at large following his exploits at the 2013 U-17 world cup. His feat in the tournament earned him a move to Manchester City- a move many felt was the wrong one.
Since he made that move, his career has nosedived and he has been a shadow of his former self. A move to Leicester was supposed to rejuvenate him, but he has failed to find his form which resulted in his drop from the AFCON squad.
However, a full pre-season under the foxes manager Brendan Rodgers could give Iheanacho a new lease of life and that could revive his super eagles’ career also. Although there are so many pointers as to why Iheanacho’s career has taken a downward spiral, one that played a huge part is his conversion from an attacking midfielder to a number nine.
At the U-17 world cup, the former Manchester City played behind the career and that’s why he flourished. However, since he made the move to Europe, he has been deployed in the number 9 position. It affected his performance which resulted in his drop. In his stand out games for the Super Eagles, he has always played as an attacking midfielder as that where he’s most dangerous.
It’s unlikely Iheanacho play in that role for the foxes with James Maddison playing in that position right now, but he could be an able deputy for the England U-21 and if he can find his form again, then Nigeria will forget Mikel in no time.
Ogenekaro Etebo: Although not as skilful as the two previously mentioned, what he lacks in skills, he makes it up with his work rate and movement with the ball. The 23-year-old was played in a more central role at AFCON but have the experience of playing as an attacking midfielder having played in that position with the CHAN Eagles.
In the seven games he played for Super Eagles at the Nations Cup, Etebo had a pass success percentage rate of 87% which is better than Iwobi who played in a more advanced position. One of the attributes of a good attacking midfielder is the ability to have a good passing skill.
Etebo has shown this and his ball movement also is an advantage he has over other rivals. He may not have the dribbling skills as the others, but as long as he can improve on his creativity, he could be the answer to the number 10 Nigeria have been craving for.
Kelechi Nwakali: The lesser-known name among the potential replacements but he’s believed to have the natural ability to be our next Jay Jay. Also another product of the U-17 world cup, a lot of people believe Nwakali will be the answer to the creative midfielder the Super Eagles have been searching for because he has the natural ability. However, one thing that could count against him is his lack of experience and game time.
The 21-year-old managed just 16 appearances for the Porto B team last season. The Super Eagles number 10 should be someone not just playing regularly but also in a decent club in Europe and that could count against Nwakali.