In the past week, Brazil national football manager, Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, known as Tite, named his starting 11 for the FIFA World Cup that kicks off in 113 days.
Many managers won’t go this route though they already have a fair idea of their first 11 – that includes Super Eagles gaffer, Gernot Rohr.
Rohr has been instrumental in many players going on loan in January because he said he would pick his squad based on activity on the pitch.
There is then Joel Obi, who is having his best professional football season with Torino in Serie A – a left-footer, who can fill in so many roles for the Eagles but will he get into Rohr’s consciousness with the World Cup just some months’ away?
But first a lesson on who Joel Obi is…
The curious case of Joel Obi and the Super Eagles
Joel Chukwuma Obi made his Serie A debut for Inter Milan against Cagliari in 2010, when he was 19. When he made yet another return from injury on October 29, 2017, it was against Cagliari, and he scored to give Torino a 2-1 win. If all his returns could just be like this…
If there is a player whose career has been decimated by injuries, then it is Joel, whose Ibo name, Chukwuma means ‘God Knows’.
Obi has made just 105 league appearances in the seven years since he jogged on to the San Siro pitch to replace a certain Philippe Coutinho.
Coutinho’s value has since risen to $76 million while Obi’s value has drastically reduced to about $3.1 million [courtesy of transfermarkt figures].
When Samson Siasia gave Obi his debut for the Super Eagles in 2011, in a friendly game against Sierra Leone at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos and like a colleague, Lolade Adewuyi, said, Obi’s name was sung in many parts of the stadium that day and many believed he would captain the national side in the coming years, but that has not been the case.
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Glorious beginnings decimated by injuries
Just like the case of Daniel Sturridge, Joel is a class act when he is injury-free and he is having the best football season in his professional career at the moment. This season, he has missed seven Serie A matches with a muscle injury and at 26-years of age, he is supposedly getting to his prime. Obi has played 20 times for Torino and scored four league goals and one goal in the Coppa Italia. He has also assisted two goals for modest Torino in the league.
Does he merit a place in Rohr’s Eagles?
At this moment, the only left-footed players in the Super Eagles are Elderson Echiejile and John Ogu – two players who might not be starters on June 17, when the team files out against Croatia.
Obi is an upgrade on these two players in terms of technical ability and intelligence on the ball. He is also a very flexible player who can technically adapt to more than one position – a criterion that every successful must possess.
But he has been out of the national team picture since February 29, 2012, when the Eagles played a 0-0 draw with Rwanda in Kigali. He was last seen with the national team in South Africa on October 9, 2014.
What are Nigerians saying?
“His frequent injuries are his only undoing. No way a fit Joel Obi would be ignored for the world cup. Our midfield might be saturated, but none [of the current crop] brings the qualities that a fit Joel brings. I would be interested to see how he performs as a left wing back or left fullback though,” says Adde Fortunato.
Solace Chukwu, who writes for Goal wrote on Twitter, “For me, the only question is surrounding his physical condition. If he stays fit, don’t know how he can be ignored.”
But Adeyemi Adesanya, a football commentator believes Rohr already has a fixed plan.
“Tough really considering how Rohr has rotated his team; he seems fixed on his combination and probably substitutes. I am not sure he [Joel Obi] can crash the party.”
After the 4-2 win over Argentina last November, Rohr posited that there could be some new faces in the team going to the World Cup.
“It’s possible to still see new faces next year because we will give every player a chance to prove to us they deserve to wear the national jersey. We will get there soon, hopefully.”
At the moment, Obi is doing all he can on Italian pitches to prove to Rohr he deserves a chance. He has his best average minutes per game ratio in his eight seasons in Italy with his best goals tally also – the question is, will Rohr look his way? Or should Rohr at least look his way to make the Super Eagles stringer for the task ahead in Russia?
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