John Obi Mikel’s recall to Nigeria’s provisional squad for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations will inspire an ambitious young side lacking experience, the team’s coach and ex-players said Thursday.
The Super Eagles were the youngest team at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and they will be even younger at the Africa Cup in Egypt after experienced campaigners Victor Moses, Elderson Echiejile and Ogenyi Onazi were left out.
Coach Gernot Rohr did not call up Mikel during the 2019 Nations Cup qualifying tournament but Nigerian officials insisted the player was still the national captain although former Leicester City winger Ahmed Musa, 26, took over the role.
The Eagles failed to qualify for the last two tournaments and their young squad is dominated by players who will be making their debuts at the finals.
The experience and leadership of the 32-year-old former Chelsea midfielder Mikel will be invaluable to how far the team will go in Egypt.
He has won 85 caps and scored six goals since he made his full international debut in 2005.
This Africa Cup will be his fifth. He won the competition in 2013 and was also part of Nigerian teams that finished third in 2006 and 2010.
“We have a few very experienced players like our captain John Obi Mikel. He is one of our most important leaders,” said Rohr.
Mikel returned to Europe at the start of the year, joining Middlesbrough after two years in China.
Former Nigeria international Ifeanyi Udeze said Mikel will provide inspiration.
“The young players will look up to him, besides the fact that after what he showed with Middlesbrough in the English Championship this past season, he still has a place in the starting team,” he said.
“Mikel has the experience the team badly need and he is still doing well and that explains why so many top clubs are chasing to sign him now,” added another former international, Chukwu Ndukwe.
Mikel has been played as a defensive midfielder at his various clubs, but under Eagles coach Rohr he has had a free role just behind the main striker in a formation that has served the team well.
In Egypt, Nigeria starts its pursuit of a fourth continental crown on June 22 in an inviting group with Guinea and debutants Burundi and Madagascar.