by Ifreke Inyang
The class of 2005 was special. I am yet to find anyone who will argue against the group of boys that represented Nigeria in the Youth Championship held in the Netherlands. From Taiye Taiwo, the explosive full back with a vicious left foot to Ogbuke, the electric winger, the football sometimes was magical. They were only stopped in their tracks at the finals by Argentina.
At the hub of all the creative play was a lanky Mikel Obi. Prodigiously gifted, deceptively quick and blessed with a marvelous range of passing, Mikel was hailed as a hybrid of two of Nigeria’s best players, Kanu Nwankwo and Jay Jay Okocha. Trust us to become emergency soothsayers. We looked into our crystal balls and prophesied that he was the messiah that would salvage Nigeria’s football reputation which was hitting rock bottom. When he eventually moved to Chelsea after a summer of wrangling that involved Manchester United, we sat back in our arm chairs and nodded. Our predictions were coming through. So we thought.
And then Jose Mourinho happened. Mikel was promptly converted to a deep lying defensive midfielder and his attacking flair was stifled. Even when Mourinho was given the sack by Abrahamovic, successive coaches have come to employ Mikel in the same role and he has inadvertently grown into the role. In the end, we have seen a potential midfield marvel restricted to ten yard backward passes. Let’s not discredit him however. He is still capable of those mesmeric 40 yard passes that pushes viewers to the edge of their chairs. But those moments of magic have been too few and far between. And as incredible as it sounds, Mikel Obi has not scored a single Premier League goal for Chelsea. The only two goals he has been able to muster for them have been in Cup competitions against relatively unknown sides.
Now, Ramires has happened. When Roman Abarmovich splashed an astonishing 17million pounds on the former Cruzeiro player, few people didn’t even see him as a replacement or even competition for Mikel Obi. We had come to live with the excessive and most times unecessary display of affluence by the Russian owner. In his first games, Ramires was completely off colour and his slight gait didn’t win him over either. But then, there was not a bother in the world as far as we knew. He simply wasn’t in Mikel’s league.
The story has changed. Ramires has surprisingly risen above all the criticisms and is one of Chelsea’s important players. As the season enters the business end, Mikel has found himself constantly watching from the bench. While Ramires has metamorphosed into an oustanding box to box midfielder with amazing energy and has added goals for good measure. Recently, it has been mooted in some quarters that some players will be shown the door at the end of the season. And Mikel Obi is rumoured to have made that list. Whether it is true or not, one fact is sure: Mikel Obi is no longer first choice. Even in the National team, another Obi, with the first name Joel is now the new beloved of fans.
One has to wonder where it all went wrong. A few people have pointed to arrogance that came with his meteoric rise to stardom. Others have argued that his disciplinary deficiencies are to blame. Whatever the case, Mikel and his advisers will have to remedy it. Otherwise, the player that once rivalled Barcelona’s Lionel Messi might just be plying his trade next season in the colours of Stoke City, Everton or even a second tier club in Macedonia!