[Sports Stones] Haba Segun Odegbami, Mikel shouldn’t be the grass when Elephants fight

Nigerian midfielder John Mikel Obi

Olukayode Thomas takes a swipe at football legend, Segun Odegbami, for criticizing Nigerian star, Mikel Obi

AS the one who facilitated the column of Big Seg, as Mathematical Segun Odegabmi is popularly called, at The Guardian, through my then editor, Debo Adesina, while I was Sports Editor, I still follow the column till date.

Big Seg, over the years has through the column informed, entertained, and educated Nigerians, and the world at large about sports. The column has also enriched The Guardian, and I see it as one of my legacies.

But the last Saturday edition of the column ‘The 2013 Best African Player Award-My Take’ was however an aberration, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, a clear deviation from the norm.

Odegbami’s column, renowned for its constructive criticism and counseling of players, went against the norm to scathingly criticize Nigeria’s brightest player today John Mikel Obi.

Odegbami seems to be rubbing salt into the injury of a player who three days earlier lost the African Player of the Year for 2013 to Ivorian Yaya Toure, in a season he was adjudged by local and international football aficionados to have performed better than Toure.

Odegbami derided Mikel’s performances both for Chelsea and the Super Eagles. This is equally shocking because he has a history of praising the Eagles star.

Odegbami’s opinion of Mikel before 

A few months ago, while watching the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League between Chelsea and Barcelona, Odegbami admitted Mikel made him proud the way he controlled the midfield frustrating the likes of Messi, Xaxi, and Iniesta.

He expressed delight at Mikel playing football at the highest level and believes Nigerians are motivated watching him play for one of the best clubs in the world and in the most followed football tournament, the UEFA Champions League. He posited that Mikel’s exploits are no doubt an inspiration to the youths who hope to one day play at the top level as well.

On the eve of South Africa 2013 African Nations Cup, Odegbami predicted that with Mikel in the Super Eagles, we have a very good chance of winning the trophy. He recalled Mikel’s glowing performances in the past and stuck his neck out that Mikel would shine at the Nations Cup.

‘Mikel Obi, the Nigerian defensive midfield player is making his mark quietly in the colours of Chelsea and the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Nigerians are counting on him playing at his best again these days, to use his vast experience and leadership to lead Nigeria’s onslaught. The man is getting used to winning championships. There is something about Mikel that is special and confounding.’ That was Odegbami’s view about Mikel before the 2013 Nations Cup.

And Mikel did just that both on and off the field of play. Many will remember that most of the goals Emmanuel Emenike scored were from Mikel’s passes. Against Cote d’ Ivore, he turned Toure into a passenger in the midfield war, Mikel sat comfortable in the driver’s seat controlling the match which Nigeria won 2-1 to advance to the semi-final.

Even after the award, Odegbami had nothing but words of consolation for Mikel. He even urged the Chelsea star to stay focused despite painfully missing out on the 2013 CAF Africa Player of the Year Award. For Odegbami then, either Mikel or Toure could have been voted the best and he still considers Mikel worthy of the honour but unfortunately only one of the two can claim the top prize.

So what has changed?

So what has changed between Thursday night and Saturday morning when Big Seg’s column appeared in The Guardian?

How come Mikel suddenly become a candidate Nigerians were supporting just for sentimental reasons, how come it is now difficult for Big Seg to pinpoint a truly outstanding player in the Super Eagles team that won the 2013 Nations Cup, how come Mikel that Big Seg praised for being outstanding in many Chelsea games suddenly becames a player to which he could not recall a decisive pass, a great dribble, a great shot, or a moment of magic.

In the same article, Big Seg, generally known for his consistency, was so inconsistent that you will know that his scathing criticism of Mikel was for none football related reasons. In the article, Big Seg admits that Mikel is a great player and that there was no doubt about it, yet he still referred to Mikel as a player that is not missed when not playing and whose presence is not felt when on the field.

This blowing hot and cold at the same time is unlike Big Seg, and given his inconsistence in the article, one could conclude that his criticism of Mikel was to settle personal scores.

Anybody who has ears close to the ground among the high class in the Lagos social scene may have heard of the clash between Big Seg, a big elephant, and another big elephant that is very close to Mikel. The fight has been on for a while, and it probably reached a boiling point in the last few weeks.

Big Seg may probably have written the article on the spur of the moment. He probably thought, this is the friend of my enemy and this is a good opportunity to get at them.

That is the only way I can explain his sudden U-turn, his scathing attacks, the decision to rubbish Mikel and all that he has achieved, rubbish his reputation and the inconsistencies in the article.

With the Brasil 2014 World Cup around the corner, reference to a past statement by Eagles assistant coach Daniel Amokachi that Mikel’s football is not sexy could cause disaffection in team, and damage relations between Amokachi and Mikel, this could affect our World Cup chances adversely.

Same with Odegabmi’s insinuation that Vincent Enyeama deserved the award above any other player, another inconsistency, having said earlier that none of our players was outstanding.

How will Enyeama relate with his coach, Stephen Keshi, after reading the article, how will he relate with his captain Joseph Yobo, and Mikel the player both voted for. With the World Cup around the corner, insinuation like this could divide the team. Big Seg knows that a goalkeeper is as good as the quality of his back four and his defensive midfielder, when exposed, a goalkeeper is a basket.

I think Big Seg should leave Mikel out of his clash with the other elephant, men can have their fights, but kids should not be dragged into it or used to settle scores.

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