Mikel: A Decade Experience With Chelsea
As John Mikel Obi leaves Chelsea for a new adventure in China, the transfer fee stands at next-to-nothing. This is not an opportunity from the club he departs to cash in on the Chinese millions again.Instead, it is a mark of recognition for the player’s efforts and a gesture in respect of 10-and-a-half years of ‘exceptional’ service since he signed in 2006. Back then, little was known of the Nigerian teenager who arrived from Lyn Oslo – apart from his sketchy history with Manchester United.
More than a decade on and, with two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League win under his belt, Mikel’s time at Stamford Bridge certainly has value – even if he perhaps did not fulfill his potential in the way some expected.
“I am pleased to get the chance to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world,’ Mikel told reporters after signing a deal to come to the Premier League in 2005. But that ‘big club’ was Manchester United, rather than Chelsea. Mikel was to wear the No 21, having agreed a four-year deal with the Old Trafford club.
Chelsea, though, claimed they had already reached an agreement with the player – Mikel had already been impressing Jose Mourinho in trial training sessions with the club’s first team and the Blues were known admirers. A game of smoke and mirrors ensued, including allegations of a ‘kidnapping’ and time with a bodyguard in a safe hotel for Mikel, before things were worked out a year later.
United had agreed a £4million deal for Mikel initially. In order to successfully complete his transfer, Chelsea paid their domestic rivals £12m – plus a further £4m to Lyn. Lyn director Morgan Andersen was later convicted of fraud and making false accusations in a case that stemmed from the Mikel debacle.
A subsequent High Court claim made by Chelsea, who said that ‘the transfer was based on a fraudulent misrepresentation, now proven by a court of law’, was settled out of court. It was not the simplest of starts for a 19-year-old moving to a new country and a club far bigger than the one he was leaving. That Mikel had to adapt from the more expansive role he played in Norway to the defensive midfield position he is known for playing now was an added complication.
From the start, though, he was a player trusted by his managers. Mourinho handed him 22 appearances in a debut season in the Premier League. Ten of those came as a substitute – often as an attempt at engineering something of a human full-time whistle by the Portuguese.
Mikel would be crowned as Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year that season, while winning the Carling Cup and the FA Cup – where he starred in midfield alongside Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele to ebb out a victory in a drab first final at the new Wembley.
In Makelele, he had the perfect role model to follow but also an absurd benchmark to be judged by. As the Frenchman aged, Mikel became a more prominent figure. He would lose his place on occasion and sometimes bore the brunt of frustration from his own support but every one of Chelsea’s many managers through the last decade would recognise the Nigerian’s qualities by the time the big games came around.
Guus Hiddink was arguably Mikel’s biggest of supporters across his two reigns – first in another FA Cup-winning campaign in 2009 and then again when he steadied the ship after Mourinho’s second exit last year.
A well-established first-team figure by 2009-10, Mikel made 25 appearances in his first Premier League title win under Carlo Ancelotti but it was Chelsea’s most-memorable year which proved to be his finest in 2012.
Mikel was one of just three players to play every minute of the quarter-final, semi-final and final of the Champions League where Chelsea saw off Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich against all the odds.
For many, he was the man of the match in the final in Germany – stemming the tide of the Bayern onslaught before Didier Drogba’s winning penalty after 120 grueling minutes at the Allianz Arena. “That night, with lions on our chest and the fans behind us, we fought,’ Mikel wrote in his farewell letter on Friday. Just a week previous he had played the full 90 minutes as Chelsea beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
That he had to cope with the issues of a suspected kidnapping of his father – later found alive – at the start of that season was another indication of Mikel’s impressive character shining through.
He did not feature in the Europa League final win against Benfica a year later but was still a key figure. Mikel’s appearances in the Premier League alone only once dropped below 22 matches before this season.
He became Mourinho’s way of closing out games again in 2014-15 — with the sparkling topping of an audacious backheel to set up a Diego Costa goal away at Everton — and then got his swansong under Hiddink to restore to some order to a Chelsea team in distress last season.
This campaign, his absence during pre-season in a bronze-medal winning appearance at the Olympics shoved Mikel to the back of Antonio Conte’s thinking and the signing of N’Golo Kante and emergence of Nathaniel Chalobah have ultimately spelt the end.
Mikel scored six goals for Chelsea – a lowly figure that became the subject of laughs and jokes from team-mates and supporters. Macclesfield, Nottingham Forest, Fulham, Derby, Sporting Lisbon and Paris Saint-Germain were the unlucky recipients. Most of them were greeted with shocked delirium – notably in Paris last season.
But his impact was always about much more. Mikel’s 372 Chelsea appearances include some of the club’s greatest ever nights and the most significant chunk of his career has been devoted to furthering their ambitions at home and in Europe from a largely unsung role.
Only four other foreign players – Petr Cech, Drogba, Branislav Ivanovic and Gianfranco Zola – played more times for Chelsea. Now, with a move to the Chinese Super League and Tianjin TEDA.
Mikel also had interest from the likes of Valencia and Inter Milan but instead heads for Asia. Looking back, Chelsea will recognise that all the hassle with United and Lyn was more than worth it.
Culled From Sports Mail