To say it was a transfer mired in controversy is probably understating the convoluted process by which John Obi Mikel ended up at Stamford Bridge, finally signing for Chelsea after Manchester United thought that they had secured a deal to take the Nigerian teenager to Old Trafford from Lynn Oslo. Nevertheless, after that strange arrival the Nigerian has proven to a formidable presence patrolling in front of the Chelsea back four assuming what became universally known as the Makelele position.
His time in Chelsea blue has seen a stream of titles and truimphs, including the’double’ under Carlo Ancelotti in 2010, together with a three further FA Cup wins, the Champions League in 2012 and the Europa League the following season. Now however, with the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge, Mikel is taking on the appearance as a lost man. The purchase of Nemanja Matic in January, coupled with the Mourinho penchant for playing Lampard, Ramires and even centre-back David Luiz as one of his two holding midfield players has squeezed much of the life out of Mikel’s career at the Bridge, relegating him to the less important cup games and substitute appearances. The player who also won the African Cup of Nations in 2013 should not be written off so easily however. This is a player who shows a strong determination and dedication to the club.
In the early days of the 2011-12 season, reports arose that Mikel’s father had been kidnapped back in his native Nigeria. Two days later Mikel insisted on turning out for the club against Stoke City in a league game. In an impassioned plea for help to his fellow countrymen, he declared how he had worked for Nigeria and asked for help to find his father. It’s not clear what effect the plea had, his father was found alive ten days after the announcement of his disappearance.
In his time at the club Mikel has received much criticism for being one-paced and not positive enough when in possession. It’s a strong characteristic of the player however that he has experienced such things previously and still returned to play his role when called upon. perhaps his est performance being that night in Munich when he was arguably Man of the Match when Chelsea wrested the Champions’ League trophy from Bayern Munich in their own backyard.
Although he plays a far more adventurous ‘play-maker’ role for Nigeria, at Chelsea his role is of the unassuming artisan – what Eric Cantona once famously descried as a ‘water carrier’ but no-one should confuse this with lack of ambition. As mentioned, writing off John Obi Mikel’s Chelsea career could be premature in the extreme, at 26 he’ll be keen to prove that there’s many more years ahead of him yet.
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