BY AKINWUMI OJO
QUESTIONS trailed the decision of Super Eagles manager Sunday Oliseh to name Paul Onobi as one of the starters against Swaziland in the 2018 World Cup qualifying match last week.
However as the whistle sounded for the expiration of the tie, the Sunshine Stars of Akure midfielder was one of the few players that had managed to cloak himself in glory in the difficult game.
Interestingly, Mikel Obi, the player Onobi took his place in the heart of the Super Eagles is ironically the highest profile player in the team but albeit, one that divides opinion most.
Frankly, with his vast experience and decorations in the game, the Chelsea of England player’s should not just be a member of the team but its natural leader. With the recent retirement of Vincent Enyeama from international football, no player in the national team qualifies as much as Mikel to take over the skipper’s band.
But there is more to the leadership of a team than number of years put in. The captain of any national team must always strive to play at his best, lead by example and thus spur his teammates to to give their A game whenever given they are given the opportunity to wear the national colours. He must demonstrate his unflinching love for the flag.
But is Mikel that sort of player?
When last and how often does he put up virtuoso performances for the Super Eagles? Apart from miserably failing to step into the big shoes left behind by the mercurial Austin Okocha to be the Eagles’ creative fulcrum, Mikel’s heart always seems to be somewhere else most times he turns out for Nigeria.
As mush as he tried to grow into the first leg game of the qualifiers in Lobamba, Swaziland, Mikel just couldn’t. And with the Eagles lethargically poised and hanging on by the skin of their teeth, the team needed someone to provide a spark but that was not to be. And with an appalling performance in the it was apparent that a shake up was needed in the return leg in Port Harcourt.
Unsurprisingly, Oliseh settled for Mikel.
Speaking after his team laboured to a 2-0 victory over the unfancied opponents and one that saw the unheralded Onobi finished an unlikely hero, Oliseh admitted to selecting the Sunshine Stars star ahead of Mikel because of his hunger in training.
He said:“I don’t care where you play. Whether it is at home or abroad. I am glad that you saw it today that Onobi had a good game. I don’t have any player with permanent shirt. I selected Onobi because he is hungry.”
Onobi’s hunger has shoved him into the consciousness of his countrymen and if he maintains the trust of the manage,r he looks set to become a household name.
His impressive performance in defensive midfield for the Super Eagles earned him loads of accolades from fans who were impressed by his ability in repelling the oppositions’ attacks.
Prior to the game, Onobi claims in the media about his readiness to play on the big stage were laughed off by many, but after the commanding performance against Swaziland that had his manager raving, not again will he be easily dismissed.
Whether in the Super Eagles or in their clubs, no other player in the national team has been as prolific as Onobi, 22, who scored six goals from defensive midfield for Sunshine Stars in the recently ended NPFL.
“It was a moment I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. Every player on the streets wants to play for the Super Eagles because that’s the highest level of football.
“I was invited by chance because the just ended season was not my best. When I was called up to the camp, I said this is my opportunity, let me take it.
“The coach told me, ‘boy just go in there and enjoy yourself’. Same with Obafemi Martins, he was very encouraging. And when I got the chance, I just simply threw myself into the game,” he said.
Onobi and substitute Ezekiel Bassey’s performances have brought increased clamour for Oliseh to give greater opportunities to players playing in the domestic league because of their raw talent and hunger for glory.