A ‘little problem’ with John Obi Mikel's knee is keeping him out of the national team frame, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has revealed.
Since the Super Eagles’ exit at the group stage of the 2018 World Cup last summer, team's captain Mikel has yet to receive a call-up and, thus, absence from the game against Seychelles on Friday will mean he missed out on the entire 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification series - having pulled out of the opening Group E loss to South Africa in Uyo back in 2017.
The midfielder's stock has risen ever since his switch from Tianjin Teda in the Chinese Super League to English Championship side Middlesbrough, contenders for a Premier League spot.
And due to such form, his exclusion from the 23-man squad to face the Pirates and Egypt friendly rose many eyebrows.
But Rohr has moved to defend his action, stating that the 31-year-old is not fit enough to mix club and national team duties, leaving ‘the door open’ for the return of his captain.
“Obi Mikel is playing well at Middlesbrough and he is doing well now, but there is still a little problem with his knee and it is not the moment for him to come back to the team in these conditions,” Rohr said during a pre-match conference.
“There are so many games for him to play for Middlesbrough. They are fighting for a promotional playoff spot. And he told me it’s not the right time to return. But if Obi Mikel is very fit and has the motivation, if he shows that he is better than the other people we have, the door is open.”
Also, Rohr ruled out going in the way of countryman Joachim Low, who absolved three senior members of the German national team of their duties, thus, forcing them to retire.
Bayern Munich trio Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng were the victims, with Germany set for a new cause after disastrous World Cup and Uefa Nations League outings.
“I’m not like Joachim Low who announced that three players are out of the German national team because you never know what might happen. There could be injury or loss of form,” he added.
“We are watching what is happening and we hope he can come back one day because we need experience. We now have more young players than the last list.”