Nigeria captain John Mikel Obi says he will play anywhere on the pitch if that is what it takes to help the Super Eagles win.
Chatter in the media and among fans after the Croatia loss has been that Gernot Rohr wrongly deployed Mikel as an attacking rather than a defensive midfielder in the 2-0 defeat.
José Mourinho, who coached Mikel through his formative years and all the way to maturity while at Chelsea, added more fuel to the fire by saying that Nigeria “lost a great 6 to get a bad 10”.
In response to a question by KweséESPN at Nigeria’s press conference on Wednesday, Mikel said the conversation was academic, but he would gladly play anywhere for the good of the team, starting with tomorrow’s game against Iceland.
“Mourinho is Mourinho,” Mikel said with a slight chuckle. “I worked with him for many years so he knows me very well.
“It’s fascinating how when you have been doing something for over a year-and-a-half, nobody says something about it, but when you lose one game, there’s a problem.
“But this is football. I’ve been in this game for a long time and I understand how this works. I understand the frustration of Nigerians. They have a right to be frustrated.
“I feel comfortable playing in both positions. I would do anything possible and anything I can to make sure we win games. I am the captain of this team, I am the leader of this team. If I have to sacrifice for this team to progress, I will. If I have to sacrifice a position, go play wherever, I will do that for this team to win games.”
However, Mikel pointed out that winning games is more than just about playing positions.
“It’s important for people to understand that playing in certain positions is not the main thing. You have to be able to give 110 percent for the team, no matter where you play, and I am willing to do that.
John Obi Mikel dejected after Croatia loss Patrick Smith/Getty Images
“We have tried so many systems to make sure we win games. Hopefully there will be changes, but we will see what happens.”
Rohr agreed with his captain, and pointed out that if the team had lost with Mikel playing in attacking midfield, there would have been questions as to why he changed a winning formula.
“This is polemic I will not get into this. We won our games, all the games, since two years that I have been in Nigeria with Mikel in this offensive position. He is giving decisive passes; remember against Cameroon, we won 4-0. It was exactly the same organisation.
“If we play Mikel in 6 and another one in 10 and we lost the game, you would ask the same question, ‘why you change now and you make him play number 6 when you win all the games with him in number 10?’. So it’s not about the position.
“But we know what we have to do. And the players and me agree exactly before each game about our organisation.”
Mikel said the team have put the Croatia loss behind them and were now focused on winning against Iceland and keeping their tournament alive.
“Obviously we are disappointed that we didn’t win the last game, but we are focused, we are ready, we want to win the second game. We have to win if we want to have any chance of qualifying from this group.
“We know that and we are working towards that. We are doing everything possible in training, working very hard to making sure we win this game, so hopefully all goes according to how we want it.
“The mood in camp is brilliant. Really good. The boys are relaxed; there is banter going on in the hotel and in the dressing room.
“We all play football for a living, we know how it is, how disappointing it is to lose games. We know how it is to bounce back. We are focused and we want to make sure we win the next game.
“We don’t want the disappointment from the last game all through this week. We want to feel relaxed; we still have more games to play. We are relaxed but we working very hard, we are doing things right to correct our mistakes and make sure we win the next game.”
That next game, against Iceland, happens on June 22 in Volgograd.