The number 10 shirt is reverred in world football. It is often handed to the playmaker, team leader or talisman of the team…..not necessarily the captain. Those who wear this jersey know the task bestowed on their shoulders on the pitch as they regularly become the cynosure of all eyes.
The exit of one No. 10 ushers in or turns out the emergence of another for a team that has solid succession plans or believes in the smooth graduation of young players to takeover from their senior colleagues who often are their idols.
When Austin Okocha was preparing to quit the national team, everyone knew his replacement which was John Obi Mikel. The young Mikel then was fresh from the Holland 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup. It was precisely in Egypt 2006 AFCON that he arrived Super Eagles camp from London (or Chelsea) to the warm embrace of Okocha.
Aside Okocha, the Nigerian national team has been blessed with great No.10s. From Henry Nwosu to Etim Esin and so on.
As Mikel gets set to bow out possibly by the end of Egypt 2019 AFCON, his shirt should be the focus of some players for grab especially the new and younger players who are yet to pin down a jersey number. For the likes of Ahmed Musa (No. 7), Odion Ighalo (No. 9), William Troost-Ekong (No. 5) and Kenneth Omeruo (No. 22) among others they already have “permanent” shirt numbers once they make the squad for any tournament….This means they may not need Mikel’s No. 10 shirt.
This throws the offer to the likes of Alex Iwobi, Samuel Kalu, Samuel Chukwueze, Victor Osimhen and Henry Onyekuru among other young players. If Kelechi Nwakali was in this team he also stands a chance on account of his role as a playmaker. But fans would love Chukwueze to wear this shirt given his performance in this tournament, his age and the chances of him staying long in the team….
Many would want a popular player to don that shirt and make it more reverred like the days of Nwosu, Esin, Okocha and Mikel….So who picks Nigeria’s respected number 10 jersey after Mikel’s exit? We wait to see….
By Desmond Ekwueme