A former Super Eagles captain, Mikel Obi has joined English Championship side, Stoke City ahead of the 2020/2021 season.
The team confirmed the signing of the former Chelsea star on a free transfer on Monday.
“The [ex]Nigerian international midfielder joins Morgan Fox, James Chester and Steven Fletcher in checking in at the Bet365 Stadium ahead of the 2020/21 Championship season,” the club said on their website.
Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel says the youngest squad at the World Cup must keep their nerves in check and shoulder the expectations of Nigerians when they play Croatia on Saturday.
With millions of fans back home cheering them on, the Super Eagles enter the World Cup under pressure after a dismal record in recent tournaments.
The players go into the Group D match-up in Kaliningrad — Russia’s bucolic European exclave more than 750 miles (1200 kilometres) from the chaos of Moscow — knowing they must improve on a run of just one win in their last 11 World Cup matches.
“It’s going to be very interesting because they like to keep the ball and so do we,” Obi Mikel said on Friday at the region’s gleaming new white-and-blue stadium.
“We have a younger team so that might help us come the end of the game.”
At an average age of just 25 years and 337 days as the tournament begins, the Super Eagles are the youngest squad in Russia and Mikel, the former Chelsea midfielder now playing in China, believes the exuberance of youth may be the Super Eagles’ secret weapon.
“The players are full of energy and have a lot to prove because they’ve not played on this stage before,” he told reporters.
“Not a lot of players were here for the last World Cup but I think that might be a good thing. It’s important for them to control their emotions so we have to keep that in check as well.”
Although relatively inexperienced, Nigeria’s squad boasts a number of Premier League regulars, including Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Moses of Chelsea.
‘Perhaps too early’
After a successful qualifying campaign, German coach Gernot Rohr rang the changes for two warm-up friendlies against England and the Czech Republic, both narrow losses.
“Of course we never like losing friendlies but the most important was to see my players,” he said Friday.
In charge since 2016, Rohr is well aware of the pressures that come with representing a football-loving nation with virtually 180 million citizens behind the team.
“We have pressure all the time and I am sure that we will make Nigerians happy. We are a young team and perhaps this World Cup comes a little bit early for them because they are so young,” said the former Bordeaux manager.
Much has been made of the risk of black players in Russia being targeted by the type of racist abuse that has dogged the Russian game for decades.
But captain and coach are optimistic that locals will support a team that contains several Russia-based players and whose captain’s partner is Russian.
“A lot of Russians seems to support the Nigerian team. I don’t know why, maybe because of my girlfriend,” Mikel said.
“But we seem to have a lot of support wherever we go and this place feels like home for us.”
Whatever happens on the pitch, Nigeria will leave Russia as undisputed winners in one category: style.
Their lurid green, black and white chevroned home kit sold three million replicas ahead of its release last week — and inspired dozens of knock-off versions from shrewd street vendors in Lagos.
Young guns vs golden generation
While Nigeria are stocked with young guns, Croatia come to Russia with several players, including Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric, in the golden years of their career.
The national captain was the lynchpin for the Champions League treble winners but recognises that a youthful Nigeria team could pose his team problems on Saturday night.
“Nigeria may be the best African team right now. They play vertically, fast and have great forwards,” Modric said.
“We prefer our own style — possession, tactics and attacking football. That is our biggest advantage.”
Modric, playing at his third World Cup, bristled when asked about his role in a corruption scandal back home.
“Nothing smarter to ask?” snapped the midfielder, who was charged in March over alleged false testimony over the details of his 2008 transfer from Dinamo to Tottenham Hotspur.
Valencia Sporting Director, Jesus Garcia Pitarch, has confirmed they have held transfer talks with Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel.
Mikel, 29, has fallen out of favour at Stamford Bridge this season and is yet to make an appearance under Antonio Conte.
Pitarch revealed that he engaged in negotiations with the defensive midfielder on Christmas Day and confirmed that the ball is firmly in his court with regards to ending his 10-year tenure with the blues.
He said: “In the case of Obi Mikel, with Chelsea’s permission, I met with him in London on Christmas day.
“I informed him of the option [of joining Valencia]. He said he would think about it”.
Valencia are looking to reinforce their squad this month in a bid to turn their fortunes around.
With just three wins in their 15 league games, Los Che are 17th in La Liga and level on 12 points with Sporting Gijon, who are in the relegation zone.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have beaten the Desert Warriors of Algeria 3-1 in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Chelsea forward Victor Moses scored Nigeria’s first goal in the 26th minute after a mix up in the Algerian defence.
Captain Mikel Obi added a second on 42 minutes after beating the offside trap set by the Algerian defence.
Nabil Bentaleb pulled one back for Algeria in the second half but Victor Moses’s 2nd goal of match wrapped up all three points for the Super Eagles.
Nigeria now have six points from the two matches played and have created a 4-point lead after Cameroon and Zambia played a 1-1 draw in the group’s other game.
Cameroon are second with two points while Zambia and Algeria who have both lost to Nigeria have one point each.
Georges Leekens’ men are now in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup in spite of having some of the continent’s most in-form players and being ranked third in the continent behind the Ivory Coast and Senegal.
Before the match, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, promised Super Eagles players $10,000 for every unreplied goal they score against Algeria, in the World Cup qualifier.
Governor Udom made this promise, when he visited the team at their Le Meridien Hotel camp, accompanied by his predecessor, Godswill Akpabio.
The Governor had donated 10million naira to the three-time African champions, after they defeated Tanzania 1-0 in September.
Chelsea’s Nigerian midfielder, John Mikel Obi, says he has no intention of leaving the London club.
Signed to the club in 2006 and now second only to Captain John Terry as the longest serving player in the club, Obi says Chelsea has become his home.
There have been rumours linking Mikel with a move away from West London but recent pre-season happenings show that Jose Mourinho might have plans for Mikel in his squad, at least in the 2015/16 season.
The 28-year-old spoke to club website and expressed confident views about his chances in the Chelsea squad.
“I want to stay and the manager wants me to stay,” said Mikel.
“I’ve got two years [on my contract] here and I’m happy.
“I like to be somewhere where I have developed friends and family. It’s like my family here and every day I come to work it is like coming in to see my family.
“I know all the players and all the staff so it’s going to be a hard place to leave when my contract runs out but let’s see what happens. I want to see out my two years.”
Mikel Obi played the first half of Chelsea’s match with New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, leaving the pitch at the break with the Blues 1-0 ahead.
He created an excellent chance for a second with a fine long pass which was latched on to by his compatriot Victor Moses. The winger was unlucky not to score with a dink that hit the post and not the net.
Mikel believes, “Overall it was a pretty good warm-up game but not the result we hoped for.
“We knew we needed to start the game well. I was in the dressing room having a shower at the beginning of the second half so I don’t know how we started but we obviously didn’t end the game well.”
Goals from Loïc Rémy and Eden Hazard could not prevent Chelsea slipping to a 4-2 defeat.
“We are here to work hard, and we are here to train hard leading to the Community Shield and to the league. I think we’re on the right course. That game was just a one-off game and we know we need to go back to training, buckle up and know the season is starting soon”, Mikel Obi said.