Joel Obi 22 Midfielder Inter
You want to talk about raw materials? Joel Obi’s got the lot.
Pace to burn, good control, the skill to be unpredictable, versatility across midfield – it’s all there in abundance, so why haven’t we spent the last 12 months talking about Joel Obi and hyping him up to Raheem Sterling levels of improbable future brilliance?
Firstly, and we put it here as it is perhaps the most important point to make given his tender footballing age, because he’s versatile and his club have needed that quality above all his others more often than not, he has yet to really settle into a position and enjoy a long run there.
He became an important substitute for Claudio Ranieri and Inter (a fact evidenced in over 20 appearances from the bench in two and a bit seasons) who would slot him in to further pack a midfield in tight games or to try to provide something different if needed in others. Between his super-sub cameos and a handful of starts he has most often been played on the left of midfield, a position that if we’re being kind his crossing can look like a difficult fit. He is naturally gifted on the ball and his dribbling can put you in mind of a certain so-good-they-named-him-twice Jay-Jay Okocha, but as a winger or wide midfielder end product is key and while he’ll joyfully take a man on all day long, he can frustrate when then in good positions.
We believe (and we checked with the ever-excellent Rocco Cammisola for good measure) that he would be best deployed as a Schweinsteiger type midfielder. He has the natural pace, determination and aggression to be a box-to-box player, busily storming barns and creating that vital uncertainty to bring out opponent’s weaknesses as he goes. His natural instinct is to attack, his dynamism means this could easily be cultivated from a slightly deeper role.
He also has the general range of passing required although he is some way off a membership card from the ‘Pirlo & Scholes Honorary Sat-Nav Club’. Naturally athletic and at home with the hard work, we think if Inter are bold enough to give him a run there or even structure a loan deal with a suitable club who will if they consider it a gamble in their own side, we think he could develop quite quickly into a natural in the role.
Secondly and inherently linked to the lack of a definitive positional identity, is a clear need for experience to better his footballing intelligence. His decision making can frustrate – the shot taken when better options are available, picking the wrong pass, taking the man on again etc – and we completely understand that this is still a young player with less than 60 appearances to his name, but he needs to grasp any opportunity to learn with both hands.
This is a harsh criticism and we understand that, until he makes a position his own and clocks up a season there, how can he be expected to know the nuances and intricacies of a role that separate a merely ‘decent’ player from a great one? This is a problem he needs to solve though, time on the pitch this year has been limited due to injury but he must force his way from bench to starting eleven quickly if he is to fulfill his potential longer term.
So after all that bad stuff let’s have some good and we want to point out that we like Joel Obi a lot, and we’re not the only ones.
Inter know they have a player and have been careful through his injuries, glowing in their praise from manager to manager, and appreciative of his potential. Having been taken from Nigeria to the club in 2006, they have nurtured his talent all the way through to the first team now stewarded by a manager who was given the job for his work with the youth systems at Roma and then Inter themselves - Andrea Stramaccioni. If Joel is to progress circumstances will never be better at this club than they are right now, he must appreciate that fact and act accordingly.
Also he has become very much part of Nigeria’s international team, usually a starter and in line for a pivotal role at 2013’s Cup of Nations (fitness permitting). His pace and attacking input have made him somewhat of a crowd favourite and he has been trusted with a more central role for his national side more than once. If he can get stay injury free and get some touch back in a couple of appearances for Inter, this could be a chance to really shine. Rather than placing himself in any shop window, he needs to hope the people watching closest of all are his current employers.
“Fast, technically sound and physically imposing, the Nigerian seems the prototype modern midfielder and one who, now recovered from injury, has a coach at Inter who believes in him. Could outshine some far more illustrious names in the Inter midfield this term.”– Adam Digby (ESPN, Sports Illustrated)
D A harsh mark but representative of a lack of opportunity over the last 12 months, time to go for it and not let anyone get in his way