Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, believes Mikel Obi’s decision to represent Nigeria at last summer’s Rio Olympics is the reason behind his current ordeal at Chelsea.
Mikel, 29, who is in his 11th season at Stamford Bridge, opted to lead his country’s male football team to the Olympics instead of fighting for a place under new boss, Antonio Conte.
Compatriot, Victor Moses, has since cemented his place under the Italian, whereas his national team skipper is yet to make any appearance this term and could be heading out of the club in January.
Rohr, who was at Chelsea last month to meet with Mikel and the club’s hierarchy, stated that the player is paying the consequences for choosing country over club.
“I spoke about this with Mikel and the club’s technical director (Michael Emenalo). Mikel is training very well and he plays games in training with the big players at Chelsea.
“There is a reason why Mikel is not playing for Chelsea right now and that reason is because he played for Nigeria at the (2016) Olympics,” Rohr said at a press conference on Thursday ahead of Nigeria’s 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Algeria in Uyo.
“He was punished for that (by Conte). I cannot punish a player who loves his country and shows that he loves the Green jersey. ”
Rohr then hinted that his skipper is certain to start on Saturday against the Desert Foxes at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium.
The trainer however stated that he is not certain if the midfielder will last the entire duration of the game.
“He (Mikel) is here with us and he is fit and I hope he can play for 90 minutes against Algeria but if it is not possible, we shall see,” the Franco-German added.
“He is a big player so if he tells me on Saturday he can play for 90 minutes, great but if he says he cannot, then I will also listen to him.
“If he is substituted, we have other players who can come in for us so it is not really a problem for us. I have seen Mikel in the training sessions and he is okay and fit.
“He played a lot of games at the beginning of the season at the Olympics and has also played two games with us (Super Eagles) against Zambia and Tanzania.
“I have big confidence in him and if he says ‘it is okay’, then it is okay but when he says ‘it is not okay’ then it is not and I will listen to him.”