With just days to the kickoff of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the captain of Nigerian team has revealed that despite the progression of the team to the second round at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the team was earlier in complete disarray.
Talking to the Guardian of London, Mikel, who played for Chelsea between 2006 and 2017 said, “ There were a lot of problems in the camp which a lot of people didn’t see, the media didn’t see – we kind of hid it under the table,” Mikel said.
“The relationships between the players were not good and there was no discipline. There was no good feeling, no good vibe.
“It almost got to people being pinned up against dressing-room walls, although not quite. It was confrontation and arguments. Players wanted to do their own thing and they didn’t think about the team.”
But he said that seems to have changed with the appointment of Gernot Rohr under the leadership of Nigeria Football Federation [NFF] president, Amaju Pinnick.
The former Bayern Munich defender, 64, has apparently set the players and the NFF straight, at least on minimum required standards.
Mikel, 31, continued: “The coach and myself, as captain, have tried to make these young players realise that we are a team, not individuals. If you don’t want to play together, you are welcome to leave. It’s amazing now to go to camp. You can feel the good feelings.”
The former U-17 national team midfielder, who led the U-23 team to a bronze medal at the last Olympics in Brazil understands what calmness and proper leadership can do for a team.
“I have been in the national team since 2005 and I haven’t seen this discipline before. It is meetings, being on time, the training.
“Sometimes a player has the hump because he knows he is not going to make the team and, before in the national team, he just strolls around. Now, you have to train properly. If you don’t, you are leaving the camp. The coach has changed the whole mentality,” Mikel added.
The Super Eagles continue their World Cup preparations on Saturday at the famous Wembley Stadium, where they will face the Three Lions of England.
Mikel was absolutely equivocal on the reasons why African teams have not conquered the World Cup.
“African teams always tend to have problems inside the teams – it might be bonuses, friendships, organisation.
“If the Nigerian teams were as well organised as the Europeans, we would have won the World Cup by now. In Brazil, the financial aspect was a massive problem. Players didn’t want to train; they wanted to go on strike because they hadn’t received the bonus. This has to stop. We’ve stressed that it has to be sorted out this time.”