Super Eagles coach Keshi explains why he can’t drop Chelsea’s Mikel Obi

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Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has praised Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel for his spiritedness despite calls from many quarters claiming national team coaches are afraid to bench the player.
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Mikel had a poor World Cup as Nigeria lost 2-0 to France in the second round where he was bested by Paul Pogba in midfield.

His impact in the Super Eagles’ 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign has also come under scrutiny with the team winning just one in four matches leaving them in dire straits.

Keshi has not dropped or substituted the player even in the face of dwindling performances with both club and country and has now spoken glowingly of the midfielder.

“Mikel brings a lot of professionalism to the team,” Keshi told SuperSport.com. “He’s a fighter. He hates losing with a passion.

“In training sessions, it’s the same – always professional and always serious minded.”

Mikel was Nigeria’s shining light at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations which the Super Eagles won and he was voted second best player of the tournament. This earned him a place in the year-end African Player of the Year podium where he came second to Yaya Toure.

“I hate to say this but it seems some Nigerians don’t like thinking about the past because the Mikel that is criticized so much today is the same Mikel that was praised by almost all Nigerians during the 2013 Afcon in South Africa,” said Keshi.

“Has he suddenly become a bad footballer? I think we need to understand that no human being can perform at the same level everyday.

“I am not just talking about football but every sphere of human endeavour. No one can perform at the same level everyday. You have good and bad days.

“We must learn to be patient with our players and coaches. I don’t have any problems with Mikel or any of my players,” he said.

Keshi also dismissed side talk that he was afraid of benching the Chelsea midfielder even though he is regularly placed on the sidelines by Blues manager Jose Mourinho.

“That is not true. I left Mikel out of the team for seven months before I recalled him,” the 52-year-old said.

“Nobody is bigger than the team. If you are not giving one hundred and ten percent, you will have no place in the team.

“All the players know this and that is how it has been since I took over in 2011,” Keshi reiterated.

Nigeria face a pair of must-win matches against Congo and South Africa if they are to reach Morocco 2015.

They travel to play the Red Devils on November 15 and Bafana Bafana four days later in Uyo.

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