John Obi Mikel was often described as aloof and inaccessible in his time with the Super Eagles but former teammate Joseph Yobo says any perception by the public of Mikel as proud or arrogant is wide off the mark.
Mikel earned 89 caps for the national team, retiring last year after leading the team to a third-place finish at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
But despite serving and captaining the Super Eagles in a career that spanned nearly fifteen years, the former Chelsea midfielder remains something of an enigma to many Nigerians.
Mikel’s retiring nature, guarded exterior and reluctance to engage with the media led to accusations of pride and arrogance in some quarters with suggestions his hubris had a thing to do with being at a big European club at the time.
Yobo, however, who had Mikel at his testimonial in 2016 contends that nothing could be further from the truth.
- Mikel Obi Open To Egyptian League Transfer
- Mikel Obi Set For Chelsea Return
- Nigerians Don’t Appreciate “Big Name” John Mikel Obi – Wilfred Ndidi
Having been a senior player in the national team when Mikel broke in, Yobo remembers him as a quiet and introverted type whose calm exterior belied a passionate nature and ferocious mental strength.
Yobo who captained a Super Eagles squad that included Mikel to AFCON glory in 2013 said the midfielder’s taciturn nature and introverted personality was misconstrued by the media whose reports coloured public perception of the player.
“I won’t say he’s proud, I would say he keeps to himself, and sometimes people misinterpret somebody’s personality because of the media,” Yobo told Lagos-based radio station Lagos Talks.
“I didn’t see him as a bad person, I didn’t see him as a proud person, I just saw him as someone that minds his business and keeps to himself, and also, he’s mentally strong but he’s also emotional.
“That’s why I say if you don’t know people, and you don’t know what’s happening with them, you can’t speak about them. And sometimes people react differently. And the outside perception was like maybe he’s like this or that.
“I didn’t see him as a proud person, I just saw him as someone that had his own style and minds his business and stays in his lane, and sometimes that could be misunderstood.
“I was with him in camp and I saw a lot of things happen, he wasn’t proud and arrogant he was just being himself.”
While many attributed Mikel’s aloofness to “big head” from being at Chelsea, Yobo said Mikel always used his experience and expectations from being at a big team for the benefit of the Super Eagles.
“You know, when you are a top player, playing for big clubs, you get used to a certain leverage, and the way things work there, and it gives you more confidence,” the former Everton captain said.
“So he was playing for a big club, and he brought that confidence into the national team.”
But something Yobo who had a close relationship with Mikel for nine years in the national team before retiring in 2014 as the first player to win 100 caps, did foresee was Mikel becoming Super Eagles captain.
Mikel was handed the armband by Samson Siasia following the disruptive tenure of Sunday Oliseh who named Ahmed Musa as captain after stripping Vincent Enyeama of the role.
“I did see him as a future captain of the national team, people captain in different ways,” Yobo confessed.
“It’s always turn-by-turn; you have to wait for your turn. He understudied a couple of people in the national team.”
Yobo is currently an assistant coach with the Super Eagles while Mikel is without a club after leaving Trabzonspor over a dispute with Turkish football’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.