Saturday, September 10, 2016 4:16 pm
Mikel, welcome back. Tell us about the summer…
I hadn’t played in an Olympics before, I missed out in 2008 in Beijing and in 2012 we didn’t qualify for London, so I spoke to the club and got their permission to go. It was an amazing experience to play with the Under-23s and lead the team, being the captain of the nation leading it to Rio. I’m very, very proud.
As a footballer you probably only get one opportunity to play in the Olympics, it was a great experience and the Brazilian fans were amazing too. They supported us all the way and wanted us to do well, to make the final. It was one of the best tournaments I’ve had.’
As the squad’s foremost player and one of only two aged over 23, you must have been something of a father figure to your younger team-mates?
Yes, it was amazing. Leading the team not just in football but athletics, basketball, everything, was amazing for me. What an honour to be able to do that, and to represent my country is something I’m always proud of. The boys were absolutely amazing and I hope to see them all playing at the top level soon.’
The team had problems in the build-up, to do with financing. What happened in your training camp in the US?
It wasn’t a great experience in the build-up in Atlanta. There was no food for the guys, no bus to go to training, no pitch to train on. Coming into the team I tried to help as much as I can. The boys had suffered for two years, working very hard trying to play in Rio. I wanted to help as much as I could and they all say they owe me. It’s a great achievement that we managed to go there and win a medal.
Your relationship with Samson Siasia, the coach, must have helped?
We have known each other for a long time. We know how to communicate with each other and it made for a good atmosphere with the rest of the team on the training pitch. We tried to calm the players, make them see the bigger picture and not let external things influence us.
That first game against Japan was a roller coaster. What happened around that 5-4 win?
It was a crazy one! We just came off the plane two or three hours before the game, went to the hotel, put our bags down, ate and headed straight to the stadium. Not the typical match preparation. So it was a crazy game, lots of goals, and one we were very happy to win though. To go from there and win the second game helped us settle into the tournament.’
And you found the net with a tidy finish against Denmark in the quarter-final.
I always do when I play for the national team! I tend to push a bit further forward and express myself a little bit more, so there is more responsibility to create chances, and if I can get one or two goals here and there it’s great.
Defeat to Germany and then the bronze medal match against Honduras. Where does it sit in comparison to your other career achievements?
It ranks up there. Obviously the Champions League is the Champions League and winning the African Nations and Premier League are massive, but this is up there with those trophies. I can’t express how proud and happy I am to have achieved this. The reception at home was great. The Nigerian people were very happy, it was the only medal we won and they were very proud.