He was not even supposed to be a Chelsea player.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United seemingly had the deal to bring the Nigerian wonder-kid to Old Trafford done and dusted, with Mikel even posing in the Red Devils’ jersey number 21. But Chelsea belatedly came into the picture.
A bitter controversy ensued between the two English giants and by the time the dust raised settled, Chelsea had stolen in and snapped the young midfielder from United’s grasps and was reaping the benefits barely 12 months later.
United had won the league and were headed to Wembley to claim the FA Cup and complete the domestic double. But a Mikel Obi-controlled midfield restricted the Reds Devils attacks, paving the way for an extra-time Didier Drogba strike to win the game for the Londoners.
Chelsea fans then deemed him worthy of their votes as he was named the club’s Young Player of the Year 2007. He won the award again the following year.
Mikel’s loyalty to the Chelsea cause has never been in doubt since.
He has been tempted severally to join Fenerbahce, Inter Milan or even make the lucrative move to the MLS but the Nigerian midfielder has always put Chelsea first.
Mikel Obi’s loyalty has however been rewarded bountifully as the former Lyn Oslo midfielder can now boast of 2 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, 1 FA Community Shield, 1 UEFA Champions League and 1 UEFA Europa League.
He may not be as prolific as Didier Drogba, as decisive as Frank Lampard or as influential as John Terry, but when the finest, most trophy-laden chapter of Chelsea’s history is written, John Obi Mikel’s name will be lodged in a prominent place.
His total appearances in a Chelsea shirt, which stands at 269, is a million miles short of John Terry’s total rack of 696 or Lampard’s at 648. Yet the Nigerian has won every single title his more illustrious colleagues can lay claim to for the Blues, from the UEFA Champions League to the Carling Cup.
But the critics couldn’t be appeased with his title haul.
After showing a lot of potential as an attacking midfielder and considered almost as good as Lionel Messi as a teenager, Mikel still make a few people think of what might have been had he joined Manchester United.
Nurtured from the age-grades to play predominantly as an attacking midfielder, Mikel had to adapt his game to fit the Chelsea play and give him the chance to feature in the first team.
One Chelsea manager after another still found the Nigerian indispensable or at the very least, un-sellable. Even though he has had his fair share of sitting on the substitute bench.
Yet he never complained, never whined, and never protested. He never fell out with any Chelsea manager, despite the countless of them that have walked in and out of the revolving door at the Stamford Bridge.
Mikel Obi can affirm to be a Chelsea legend, not so much about the number of goals he has scored (he was never signed to be a goalscorer) or the amount of times he has featured on the pitch for the Blues but because he has managed to stay relevant in not only the best Chelsea side in the last ten years but also in history.
No one can rubbish that!
|Mikel – Better than Okocha|
However, his impressive haul of league and continental honours – possibly bettered only by Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and Nwankwo Kanu – should elevate him as not only one of Chelsea’s finest players ever but also one of Africa’s best.
No disrespect to Austin Okocha or Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Mikel is already Nigeria’s greatest ever player in the Premier League bar Nwankwo Kanu.
Only just 28, the former World Youth Championship star has a few more years at the top level to rake in more individual and team honours. Hopefully, it would be for his darling Chelsea. One thing is certain, however, whether he retires in Chelsea or sees out his playing days in a lower league, Mikel’s place has a Chelsea legend his secured.
The accolades may not be flowing in just yet and will likely not come until he retires but no one who has seen him toil and sweat in a Chelsea shirt would question his inclusion when he takes his place beside John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard in Chelsea’s Hall of Fame.