By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
Also known as “The Catalyst”, former Lyn Oslo, Chelsea, Middlesbrough and Trabzonspor Midfielder is number seven (7) on Green/Super Eagles Greatest of all Time (GOAT) Countdown compiled by Soccernittygritty.
7. John Obi Mikel
“I have no regrets, not one single regret going to the Olympics. I’ll not trade my Olympic medal for anything, I deserve it, I worked hard for it, so why would I trade it for something else – a place in Chelsea squad? No. That’s impossible.” – John Mikel Obi on prioritizing Nigeria over Chelsea.
Unfortunately, Mikel’s loyalty to National assignments has been unfairly questioned, no thanks to the overzealous Nigerian media hellbent on garnishing their tabloids with sizzling headlines for financial gains.
Born John Michael Nchekwube Obinna, the strikingly shy introvert is often mistaken for a snub from afar, however, in reality, he is far from being one. He was one who ditched loquaciousness for pragmatism as a way of converting several persistent doubters to believers. He’s clearly the most ‘decorated player’ in Nigeria’s history if not in Africa, hence, deserves an esteemed mention in the
Mikel’s unique talent became evident as early as his Elementary School days with Jos Metropolis Township Primary School. However, it took the intuitiveness of Alhaji Babawo Mohammed Adamu to unearth the jewel and provide the initial platform required to exhibit his talent on a larger scale, hence, his enrolment into the PEPSI Football Academy. In the end, he was shortlisted for bigger things amongst a large pool of over 3000 talented kids. He continued to hone his skills and joined the professional side, Plateau United. The Jos-based club availed him the opportunity to be spotted by National team handlers which ultimately led to his inclusion in the U17 squad heading for Finland.
On his return, he auditioned with the South African side, Ajax Capetown before finally accessing European football through Norwegian side, Lyn Oslo.
It was obvious, Lyn were meant to be the springboard to launching an illustrious professional career. They provided him the avenue to sharpen the rough edges in his game and the result was evident as the world watched in awe the silky skills and elegance of a young Mikel who dazzled at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Holland. Usually, goal scorers steal the show in major competitions, not this time. Instead, he hijacked the stage from the usual show-stealers cum goal-scorers as Fernando Llorente (5), David Silva (4) – he also outshone such names as Radamel Falcao and Pablo Zabaleta until he was named the second best player in the tournament, only a certain Lionel Messi was rated higher.
Shortly after, an intense transfer battle ensued between Manchester United and Chelsea as the 2 Premier League giants scrambled for his services. The former had allegedly bypassed the youngster’s camp to sign him directly for £4m and unveiled him before a hurriedly assembled media to the dismay of his agent and namesake, John Ola Shittu. Long story short, FIFA intervened, the 19-year old joined Chelsea and the rest, as they say, is history.
After initial fears about the youngster’s choice as a result of a Chelsea squad overflowing with quality with such players as Michael Essien, Frank Lampard,
Claude Makelele holding sway in the midfield, the teenager soon had his fair share of game time, albeit, in somewhat of an alien role following his conversion from a more advanced role which shot him to the limelight to a more conservative defensive midfield role by an equally conservative manager,
Jose Mourinho. His innately calm personality suppressed any agitation against the new role, rather, he kept his head on his shoulders, apprenticed under the more experienced players, took his chances whenever they showed up and slowly grew through the ranks with the exit of the hitherto starters from the squad. Mikel had a successful spell at the bridge with a resume littered with Laurels- 12 titles in 11 seasons including that famous UEFA Champions League win at Munich in 2012.
The former Nigerian captain had an imperious semifinal outing against
FC Barcelona and he followed it up with a class performance against Bayern Munich in the final. He won 2 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cup, 2 League Cups, 1 Europa League and 1 Super Cup.
The 89-cap Nigerian International won an African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title with the Super Eagles in 2013, later an Olympic bronze medal in 2016. He hardly attained that ‘Mikel’ the world anticipated, yet, the Mikel he turned out to be quietly attained legendary status.
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