Players with profiles as augmented as Mikel’s are sure to split opinion, and yet, it appears that the Chelsea man is beginning to turn the corner with the Nigeria faithful.
Criticised in the past for not giving his all for the national side, the midfielder’s influence was evident in the qualifier against Liberia, when he delivered a midfield masterclass to ensure Nigeria’s place in South Africa.
He hasn’t yet been overwhelmingly brilliant at the AFCON; I have noted a tendency to opt for the flashy, Hollywood option, rather than helping the team by keeping the play ticking over in midfield, recycling the ball and gently crafting openings.
With inexperienced midfielders like Ogenyi Onazi alongside him, I would have preferred a more measured approach, although the assist for Emmanuel Emenike’s goal against Zambia did go some way to abolishing memories of his penalty miss moments earlier.
His most notable contribution, however, was against the Ivory Coast in that crucial quarterfinal when he made a world-class interception late on to deny Lacina Traore a point-blank shooting opportunity.
I argued after the match that this was Mikel’s greatest contribution to date for the national side, although I, and many others, hope that greater things are to come as the tournament comes to a close.