For a country like Nigeria that has enriched the world football community with a scintillating brand of soccer over the past three decades – a period during which it has equally produced players with a wide repertoire of football skills – it is an onerous and a daunting task to single out a player as its greatest of all time. Admittedly the term “greatest footballer” is to a certain degree subjective – an evaluation based on individual preference, yet there are certain qualities that entitle certain uniquely gifted footballers to the coveted crown at issue in this write-up. And this is the very task this write-up has undertaken – to argue with copious evidence that Mikel Obi is the greatest footballer to have arisen from Nigeria.
In order to put this write-up in perspective , a brief biographical account of Mikel Obi makes itself felt at this junction.
Obi imposed himself into global football reckoning after starring in the FIFA under-20 competition in 2005. The Nigerian team which he represented won the Silver medal in that competition, and at a personal level Obi won the Silver Ball for the second-best player at the tournament. His performance in that competition led to a tussle for his signature by two Barclays Premier League football giants – Chelsea and Manchester United ; the former later signed Obi after a protracted dispute that was eventually settled in football’s Court of Arbitration. Obi then plied his trade at Chelsea for eleven years, and won many trophies with the London club. During the same period of time, he became a permanent feature for both club and his country. At present Mikel Obi plays for Chinese side, Tianjin TEDA.
Let us now direct our analysis on the factors that set Mikel apart from other worthy candidates for the coveted position of : “The Greatest Nigerian footballer of all time”.
Mikel Obi’s tactical intelligence stood him in good stead in his over one decade stay at a highly competitive club like Chelsea. At the outset of his career at the London club, his former coach Jose Mourinho had reasons to convert him into a holding mid-fielder , a position that was dissimilar to the attacking mid-field role that he played since he started out as a professional footballer. Obi within a short space of time took in the lessons of his new role and fitted seamlessly into Chelsea’s pattern of play under the Portuguese tactician , and the other coaches that came after Mourinho identified Mikel’s poly-functionality and always made him a regular member of their starting eleven. After the said conversion of role at Chelsea , Mikel would return for national assignments to assume an offensive role in matches . His ability to switch from one dissimilar role to another while playing for club and country gives an undeniable credence to his wealth of tactical intelligence . It must be remembered how many gifted Nigerian footballers failed to blossom in Europe because of their inability to adapt to the tactical formations of their various clubs .
The Competitive Nature of his Club and Country football.
Since Mikel spent the peak period of his football career at Chelsea, his experience at club would be used to argue the point under consideration here . The London club, funded by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich , has a track record of buying players of the highest qualities from all over the world. And within the decade Mikel played at Chelsea , many mid-fielders of exceptional qualities were bought by the club and their acquisition increased the competition among them for a position in the starting eleven , yet in that overly competitive atmosphere Mikel was able to retain his position while others fell by the way side – as the club considered them surplus to requirement. In the same breath Obi has also been a regular feature in his national team, normally selected from country that churns out quality players on regular basis.
Uniqueness of Skill-set.
Mikel Obi has over the years grown to be one of the most reliable, efficient and resourceful mid-fielders in world football. Although his playing style is not very aesthetically pleasing , but he has the quality to dictate the tempo at which a football match proceeds : it is next to impossible to dispossess him when he has the ball at his feet ; he is adept at breaking the opponent’s assault at the mid-field thus giving great defensive coverage to his back-four and his wide range of passes has an unusual way of tiring out the opponent’s attackers who try to initiate their offensive play from the middle of the pitch. Nigeria, without a doubt, has had many talented mid-fielders but none has shown the skill-set and versatility of Mikel Obi.
The essence of the game of football is to win trophies, and many Nigerian footballers have won many trophies both for their clubs and country , and Mikel Obi is no exception. He has the enviable record of winning at Chelsea the Premier league trophy on two occasions, three FA Cups , one community Shield, and one Europa League and one UEFA Champions League trophies ; at the national team level he has won the African Nation Cup trophy. Very few Nigerian footballers have been decorated the way Obi has been garlanded with medals in football in his highly successful career.
Evenness of Character
It is fact that most footballers usually struggle to live a socially acceptable life style due to the fame and fortune attendant to the game. Most celebrated footballers make the headlines for the wrong reasons due to their excesses on and off the pitch. Mikel Obi, in spite of the wealth and the super-stardom status he has attained in the game , has remained a level-headed young man. There has been a scandal associated with his name ; and he has flown his club’s and country’s flags honorably while discharging his duty on the field of play ; and as the captain of his nation team , he remains a role model and source of inspiration to his team mates. As part of his humility, Obi has never turned down an invitation to represent his country in any competition , a practice that is very common amongst footballers.
Mikel Obi played for Chelsea for over a decade and still plays active football for both his current club and the national team. To have been a regular feature for a highly competitive club like Chelsea is no small feat , and the same thing can be said about him being a constant feature in his national team. It remains a fact that no other Nigerian player has played for a decade for club of global renown like Chelsea as Mikel has done , and even at the national team level only the likes of Peter Rufai, Stephen Keshi and Kanu Nwankwo have stayed as long as Mikel has done in the Super Eagles. Another fact worth stating in respect of Mikel’s longevity is that most of his team mates in the FIFA under-20 competition in 2005 have either hung up their boots or sunk into oblivion.
Mikel Obi exploits in the football world has not gone unnoticed by viewers of the popular game around the world. In Nigeria , his success over the years has galvanized interest in the sport. Youths have now taken the game seriously , hoping to replicate his success in their own intended career ; parents have abandoned the old belief that football is a career for school drop-outs and kids incapable of formal education , and now most Nigerian parents are now openly supportive of their children who want to follow that walk of life. As it stands Obi remains a positive spirit to Nigerian youths , a role model and a national hero.
According to Forbes rating of 2011, Mikel Obi was rated to be the seventh highest paid African footballer and the highest paid Nigerian footballer, with an annual salary of $5,800,000. According to Vanguard newspaper of Nigeria , Mikel receives £140,000-a-week in his current club Tianjin TEDA in China. These earnings are all indicative of the immense wealth Obi has made in his highly successful career , and he can be safely mentioned in the same bracket as most Nigerian players – both past and present – who have made fortune from the game of football.
Admittedly , the qualities I have ascribed to Mikel Obi that informed my judgement that he is the greatest player that has arisen from Nigeria are not peculiar to him. However, the other contenders for the exalted crown – who share similar attributes – have not exhibited these qualities for the space of time Obi has done it and most of them did not play football at the highly competitive level at which Mikel played the game and excelled.
Due to the brevity of time and space this write-up has come to its logical end , leaving the prospective readers with sufficient reasons why Mikel Obi is without a vestige of doubt the greatest footballer to have emerged from Nigeria. And it also remains a fact that whenever Nigerian football is discussed , the immense contribution of Mikel Obi will be duly referenced.