Leicester City midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi believes Nigerians do not accord former Super Eagles captain, John Mikel Obi the recognition his stellar career deserves.
Mikel, 32, called time on his international career after captaining the three-time African champions to a third-place finish at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
The former Lyn Oslo midfielder who won 89 caps and scored 6 goals for the senior side also represented his country in the U17, U20 and U23 grades.
No Nigerian footballer has won more trophies than Mikel who spent a decade at Chelsea and has so far won an AFCON title, 2 English Premier League titles, one UEFA Champions League title, a Europa League title, 4 FA Cups and 2 English League Cups.
There is also an U20 FIFA World Cup silver medal and a bronze medal won as captain of Nigeria’s Olympic team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Yet, despite his numerous successes, Nigerians have never quite warmed to Mikel and he doesn’t elicit anything close to the sort of veneration reserved for former players like Nwankwo Kanu and Austin Jay Jay Okocha.
Ndidi, 23, who revealed that he idolised the former Chelsea star as a child and was a fan of the Blues growing up, said Mikel deserves much more adulation from Nigerians than he gets at present.
“Mikel is a legend, we probably don’t appreciate him as we should, but he’s a big name and legend,” Ndidi told ESPN football writer Colin Udoh in a chat on Instagram Live.
The Leicester midfielder revealed that he held Mikel in such esteem that he ensured he always got the number 12 jersey while still at academy club Nath Boys in Lagos.
Ndidi finally got to meet his hero in October 2015 in Belgium when he earned his first call up to the national team ahead of a friendly against DR Congo.
He, however, confessed to being so nervous that he couldn’t muster the courage to talk with Mikel or request for a photo with his idol.
Ndidi was so much in awe of Mikel that even as an established member of the Super Eagles, he was never quite able to see Mikel as just another teammate that he could hold informal conversations with.
“Mikel was my idol, I grew up watching him,” Ndidi said.
“When I was in Nath Boys if they want to share jerseys before they put names I want to take the number 12. As a central defender, I want to take the number 12 because Mikel wears the number 12.
“When I saw him the first time in Belgium I was nervous, I couldn’t take photographs with him, I was scared. Even in training, I couldn’t get close to him and tackle him.
“[Even now], I don’t talk to him personally except there is a conversation going on and I join, I couldn’t talk to him one on one [when he was in the Super Eagles].”
Ndidi described playing together with Mikel for the Super Eagles as a “dream come true” and said one of his most cherished memories was coming on for Mikel in his second game for the national team.
“It was a dream come true for me playing on the same pitch with him in midfield for the Super Eagles,” Ndidi said.
“My first (second) game for the Super Eagles I came in for Mikel, it was a plus for me, I am still happy till today.
“Thank God for the way everything is going and how far I have gone, the step I have taken, meeting these people, the encouragement, the experience they have, it’s really good for me.”