Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr claims Mikel Obi is being punished by Premier League club Chelsea for playing at the Rio Olympics.
Mikel, 29, missed most of Chelsea pre-season as he helped his country win a bronze medal at the football event of the Summer Olympic Games.
He has yet to play for his London club this season even after he rejoined them in August.
Rohr was recently on a working visit to England and met with Chelsea officials.
“There is a reason why Mikel is not playing for Chelsea right now and that reason is because he played for Nigeria at the Olympics,” Rohr said.
“I cannot punish a player who loves his country and shows that he loves the green jersey.
“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.”
Despite his lack of games for Chelsea, Rohr said Mikel will start a decisive World Cup qualifier against Algeria in the southern Nigeria town of Uyo on Saturday.
“He 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,” said Rohr.
“He is an influential player and I expect him to motivate others from the opening minute, but what I cannot tell you is if he has the strength to play full time.”
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