As Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel was having a chit chat with manager Jose Mourinho before his introduction in yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United in Old Trafford everyone knew what the game plan was. I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to 2005 when Obi was only second to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in terms of attacking prowess and flair on the ball, now the only thing the former Lyn player is known for is being a “spoiler” and Mourinho’s number one “anti-football agent”.
Whenever passionate football lovers who really want to see two teams play an attacking style, going at each other non-stop see Mikel warming up, waiting to be introduced (the players rarely get a starting berth these days) they feel sad for football and for the player himself, who had so much potential.
Unfortunately a single act in 2006 changed his fortunes and is likely to see him end his career in Europe as an “also ran”, instead of the standout player we all knew he could be when he took the world by storm by representing Nigeria’s under-20 team at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, winning the Silver Ball for the second-best player at the tournament (behind Lionel Messi) as the Flying Eaglets finished runner-up to Argentina.
Mikel’s problems started in 2006 when he was faced with the option of either joining Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United (which he already had an agreement with) or joining Mourinho’s emerging Chelsea team when the Roman Abramovich revolution was massively taking shape with stars like Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, and Claude Makelele forming the core of the blues midfield at the time.
Like most African players who go to Europe in search of greener pastures, the Plateau State-born player signed for Chelsea, which offered more money but altered his position to a defensive midfield role instead of going to Manchester United which would have played him in his natural position and allowed his career to flourish.
That single signature confirming his contract with the London club in the year 2006 killed and buried Mikel’s career as far as most people are concerned because it meant he was no longer the stand out he had always been throughout his career, instead becoming someone only introduced to the game to stop others from playing and “killing” the game.
As part of the Super Eagles where Mikel is made to assume the attacking midfielder’s role, he finds it difficult to adapt, hence his below par performances which attract huge criticism from millions of Nigeria’s football followers.
Some might argue that Mikel has had eight trophy-laden years with Chelsea, which is the measure of success in football, but the stand-out players always enjoy every trophy more because of their massive contributions to the cause, as stated by Fernando Torres who admitted he doesn’t feel part of the success of Chelsea winning the UEFA Champions League in 2012, due to his bit part role in the team.
I keep wondering if Mikel, when alone and away from the entire buzz that comes along with being a high profile player, looks back that single act in 2006 and what might have been if he took a different direction in his quest to become world’s number one player.