Nigeria’s head coach Gernot Rohr looks to bow to the pressure of removing playmaker John Mikel Obi from the crucial “No 10” role but the former Chelsea defensive midfielder still holds the key to Nigeria’s midfield woes. Mikel was subject to criticism after their 2-0 defeat to Croatia as the captain failed to inspire his teammates despite being fielded in the creative midfield role. This have prompted several football analyst including legendary footballer Jay Jay Okocha who voiced out their disdain at the former Chelsea defensive midfielder.
Football analyst and supporters have advised head coach Gernot Rohr to deploy him to the defensive midfield position or to drop him to the bench in the upcoming game against Iceland with legendary footballer Jay Jay Okocha and Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho backing the ideas. While the “No 10” role is tasked with the role of creating chances for the wide players and striker, the defensive midfield position is the role tasked with the job of shielding the defense and midfield stability. Nigeria football news reported that the Super eagles captain have shown openness and liberality to any decision the coach takes as he promises to do everything to ensure Nigeria makes it to the knockout stages of the Russia 2018 World cup. When asked about playing in defensive midfield position on Wednesday, Mikel responded “If I have to sacrifice for the team to progress, I will”. “If I have to sacrifice a position, go play wherever, I will do that for this team to win games”.
The deployment of Mikel to the defensive position of the Nigerian midfield might be the key to attaining midfield and overall stability in the Nigerian team. It is no longer news that this was the position that the Super eagles captain operated from in his successful 11yrs stint at Chelsea. Mikel while at Chelsea played under different tactics, managers and players in this position as well as in big games with the famous UEFA Champion’s league final against Bayern Munich in 2012. The Nigeria talisman within his 11yr stint mastered the art of retaining possession with accurate passing of the ball while playing in the defensive midfield role, a rare feat that will prove to be vital when the Nigeria team take on Iceland on Friday. Mikel Obi was also revered in the position due to his flexibility as he complimented his partners, the Nigerian midfielder adapted to difference calibers of midfielders ranging from box-to-box to central midfielders.
The deployment of the Nigerian midfielder in the defense midfield position could provide the stability and platform from attacking minded players could operate from. While former Chelsea footballer offers all this positives in the withdrawn role, his switch in position could have a negative impact on the team. Gernot Rohr have been accustomed to field 3 recognized midfielders in matches in a bid to balance the midfield in case of moments requiring intense defense, the deployment of the Nigerian captain in the defense midfield position could potentially alter the entire team. Mikel despite his experience and quality lacks the pace to keep up with the position. This could prompt another tactical decision to field Onazi, Etebo or Ndidi alongside him. While fielding Onazi affords him less defensive duties at the middle of the park, Etebo or Ndidi playing alongside him could mean that the former Chelsea midfielder will be heavily involved in defensive duties.
Mikel remains the key to unlocking Nigeria’s midfield potential in this world cup irrespective of the position he is deployed to on Friday. Gernot Rohr will need to make a strong tactical decision on Fridaywhether to field the Nigerian skipper in his “Creative role” or “the withdrawn role”.