With the Super Eagles preparing for the 2019 African Cup of Nations set to kick off in a few weeks, captain of the team, John Mikel Obi has expressed his disappointment at ex-players that criticise the team.
"When you see ex-players do that to players who love this country, who can do anything for this country, it is sad to see really. Because they are supposed to be the ones to encourage the younger players and talk to you and encourage players who are still playing," Mikel told the Super Eagles media team.
"Maybe they have their own problems and they want to take it out on people who are still playing but I don't know. I always concentrate on this team and I want to give everything for this team."
The midfielder, who was recently released by Middlesborough, returned to the Super Eagles after a one-year hiatus that began after Super Eagles lost to Argentina in the 2018 World Cup. He said during the time he was away from the team, he followed the team, always kept in touch with them and the coach.
"I had a good conversation with the coach. I just thought it was a time for me to take a kind of a break get some rest and then if we get to the nations cup, I'll always come back to the team to see if we can be able to win another Nation's cup," Mikel said.
Playing despite his father's kidnap
Alongside managing the number of games and long travels during his time at Tianjin Teda in the Chinese Super League, the emotional strain of playing that night at the St Petersburg stadium while his father was kidnapped could have further indicated a break off international football was needed.
Mikel refers to it as a terrible time. He was informed of his father's kidnap hours before the match as he travelled with the team to the stadium. He spoke with the kidnappers on the phone and was told he had to pay a ransom. Nigeria had a crucial match that decided their qualification to the next round. Mikel chose not to burden any other person with the news. Not his teammates, not the coaches, not the Nigeria Football Federation. He chose to play the match.
"It's something you take as a leader of the team, you have to sometimes take those things. But it was a terrible time for me, a few hours before stepping onto the pitch," Mikel revealed. "A game which could decide our fate in a massive tournament. I couldn't share it with anyone. I had a job to do. I was devastated because obviously, we are talking about my dad, my family but I knew I couldn't let anyone down in the team, in the country. I knew deeply inside me I was suffering, I was in pain I had to go out and do a job. I had to go out and serve my country."
"Sometimes when you're dedicated and you love your country so much you have to do these things and that was exactly what I did. I stepped on the pitch and even after the game I didn't really share with anybody. Luckily, everything went well. My dad was released before even people knew about it."
Commitment and respect
Mikel believes despite the commitment he has shown playing for Nigeria, some people including ex-players still don't show him the respect he deserves.
"I know sometimes the ex-players say what they say on the papers. People have their own opinion of me. Maybe when they played, they weren't as successful as I am. It wasn't my doing it was all from God. I've never ever criticised anybody in my life."
The former Chelsea player recounted when he put Nigeria ahead of his club career to play at the Rio 2016 Olympics. He led the Olympic team to third place but when he returned to Chelsea, the manager had moved on from him.
"When that opportunity came out either to go to Rio or to play for Chelsea. I told Victor Moses because it was both of us. I was older, he was younger. He had not played yet for the club, Chelsea. I said 'you stay back, I'll go, if I lose my place, it's fine.' Victor did. Victor stayed. I went, I came back. The manager never spoke to me again, didn't put me in the team. And I said 'okay fine, if that's what you want to do, I'll leave.' It's just the commitment and love that I have for my country, it will never change until I stop playing."