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Mikel John Obi


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I'm not crying 

What does he do? attacking wise he offers next to nothing, defensively he's lazy, hardly ever tracks his man, rarely wins back the ball... when he does it takes him 30 seconds to actually release the

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2 hours ago, Special Juan said:

Met him this afternoon, went to watch Boro v Hull, me and my lad took our CFC shirts. 

As he was warming up I had my Chelsea training jacket on, I shouted over to him he took a look over and beat his chest with his fist.

After the game my little lad shouted him and he came straight over after seeing the shirts. He spent a good half hour chatting about Munich and all things Chelsea.

What a day.

Sounds great, lucky you. Forgive me for being nosy but any particularly interesting anecdotes or points from him? 

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Mikel: I’m never going back to Trabzonspor – it’s not right to play football now

https://theathletic.com/1686642/2020/03/19/mikel-trabzonspor-chelsea-coronavirus/

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Mikel John Obi insists he will reject any approach to play for Trabzonspor again having walked away from the Turkish Super League side after complaining about their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking exclusively to The Athletic, the former Chelsea midfielder has revealed the extraordinary events of the last few days which have seen him cancel his contract and return to London to be with his family.

While most professional sport around the world has been postponed in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Turkish Super League was still going on until authorities suspended it late this afternoon. Trabzonspor have not won the championship since 1984 but lead the division — albeit only ahead of Istanbul Basaksehir on goal difference — after 26 games.

Mikel wrote a post on Instagram last Friday insisting the season in Turkey “should be cancelled”, which is understood to have angered the Trabzonspor board. The player says he was ordered to a meeting with club president Ahmet Agaoglu, at which he claims he was instructed to take the post down. Mikel refused to delete the message.

mike instagram chelsea turkish super league

The Nigeria international explains: “They were really upset about the whole thing. I was told to meet with the president in his office one-on-one. He asked me to take it down (the post). I told him I wasn’t going to do that. It’s my opinion. This is how I feel. We live in a free world. I have freedom of speech. I can express my opinion.

“I wanted to win the league too but at this point in time we have to think about what is more important: to save peoples’ lives.

“I want to help in any way that I can to defeat this virus. For us to be out there playing; I don’t think we are helping the global situation. I don’t feel it is right for us to play football.

“UEFA have postponed football. How come they are still playing in Turkey? It’s not right at all. But Trabzonspor were not having it — for me, they don’t care.

“I told them I wanted to go home. They said, ‘If you go home, you’re not coming back.’ I said, ‘OK, I’m going home.'”

Mikel, 32, was an unused substitute in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with nearest challengers Istanbul Basaksehir and then chose to walk away from his contract, worth around £35,000 a week, which still had more than a year left to run. The former Chelsea midfielder says he had already been assured an option for another 12 months was going to be triggered, which would have taken him up to 2022.

On Wednesday, he flew back from Turkey to be reunited with his partner and young twin girls, who had stayed in the family home near Chelsea’s training ground in Surrey while Mikel played in the Turkish Super League.

He adds: “I explained to the club that I needed to see and be with my kids. They were calling me every single morning, crying on the phone, wondering why their friends were not coming over for playdates, why they can’t touch anyone on the street. I didn’t feel happy every morning lying to my kids, making up stories to explain why in order to try not to make them panic (about COVID-19).

“I knew if I came home, they’d be relaxed because they’d then know Daddy was home. I told the club, ‘OK, if that’s what you’re saying, I’m ready to give up my contract. To be with my family, to help the world to do the right thing — everybody needs to stay at home at this point in time.’

“I have taken a financial hit by taking this stance. It is worth every single penny, I’m telling you. To see my kids happy and fine, to know we will survive this together; the only way we can beat this is by being at home with your family, taking care of your family, your neighbour.

“When I arrived back at London Heathrow, it was amazing. My girlfriend has been panicking all week over the possibility of the UK borders being shut and me not being able to come back home, that I’d be stuck in Turkey. Just imagine if this goes on for months. I wouldn’t be able to see my kids, to help my family. God forbid anything happened to them and I wasn’t there. I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice.

“Before we hugged, I had to come home and shower, change my clothes and everything. In Turkey, I was not tested or anything like that. I had to make sure I did the right things before touching them.”

Mikel, who won eight major trophies at Chelsea from 2006-17, joined Trabzonspor — on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, 650 miles east of Istanbul —as a free agent last summer, having spent the previous two years at Tianjin Teda in China and Championship Middlesbrough respectively.

He had become a key player in the Turkish side’s title challenge but had been increasingly living as a recluse as the coronavirus crisis intensified. Turkey had six reported cases at the time of Mikel’s post but that figure had jumped to 47 by Thursday.

He says: “I thought, ‘The more this goes on, I won’t be safe out there.’ I just kept myself locked up. I went to training and then I would go back to my flat. That is basically all I did until I came home.

“I was doing so well, playing every week. The team was winning — top of the league. We were playing well. I was enjoying my football out there. We had a chance to win the league but I gave that all up to do the right thing.”

Mikel is adamant he would refuse to rejoin Trabzonspor if the club made a bid to re-sign him.

“Go back to Trabzonspor? No chance,” he says. “Not with the way they have dealt with this situation.  

“We have to look at ourselves sometimes in life and ask what is more important? Who do I want to be friends with? When I’m in trouble, who is going to look after me? And, the way they have dealt with this, I don’t see myself going back to Trabzonspor again.

“I hope (there will be offers from elsewhere). I hope I will be back out on the pitch once everything is settled and everyone is back at work, everything is back to normal. I want to be out there as soon as possible. But we have to defeat this virus first.

“I am looking forward to my next chapter. I don’t know where it’s going to be. I want to be closer to home, somewhere in England maybe. But we will see what happens. The best option is where I will go.

“In the meantime, my girls will help keep me fit! I will be in the gym too and, if I can, I will do some running outside.”

A Trabzonspor spokesperson said: “Mikel’s claim about our club stated in the news you have made does not reflect the truth. Trabzonspor Club has taken all the necessary precautions against Covid-19 in a very short time.

“In accordance with the information given by the Ministry of Health, the health committee of our club has informed our footballers. The facilities, pitches and the stadium have been disinfected. Restrictions of the access of the guests in the club training ground, including even the guests of the players themselves, have been placed.

“Our staff at the facilities has started to work from home in accordance with the social distancing rule.

“Despite of all the precautions and common sense calls, Mikel wanted to go to United Kingdom, where his family is located. He was also informed that he would not be able to come back due to the restrictions in the international flights.

“Oyour footballer, whom we expected to calm and prudent just like all the footballers and football family members, who have been waiting for the league to be postponed in Turkey, decided to leave himself. His manager himself is a witness of this situation. As a result, we had to part ways with him by common consent.

“We wish him success in his career.”

Mikel responded by telling The Athletic that he disputed the club’s version of events and said the has no manager (agent) and that he attended the meeting with the club president alone.

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Mikel John Obi: Player power is in every club, mafias. You do what you have to do to get the manager changed

https://theathletic.com/2453979/2021/03/23/mikel-exclusive-player-power-is-in-every-club-mafias-you-do-whatever-you-need-to-get-the-manager-changed/

Mikel John Obi got in his car, drove past the familiar face of the security guard operating the gate at Chelsea’s training ground for the last time and headed for home. Within seconds he felt the need to pull over.

“There were tears in my eyes,” he tells The Athletic. “I parked around the corner. I just had to take a minute. There was the realisation that this was it for me and Chelsea. For 11 years I had done the same thing, had the same locker, driven to the same place every day. Chelsea was my second home. I was often there from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. I was there more than I was in my own home.”

When it comes to cult heroes at Chelsea, many names spring to mind but few have a story as extraordinary as the one Mikel has to tell. This is a man who played under nine different managers, won eight major trophies — including the club’s biggest prize of the Champions League — and made the fifth-most appearances of any overseas player (372). Only Petr Cech (494), Cesar Azpilicueta (415), Didier Drogba (381) and Branislav Ivanovic (377) have more.

But listing facts and numbers only scrapes the surface. As we reflect on his remarkable Chelsea career during two interviews conducted over a couple of days, Mikel speaks from the heart as he discusses what falling foul of Jose Mourinho is really like, the trauma of his father being kidnapped twice in Nigeria and held for ransom, why he has never apologised to referee Mark Clattenburg for accusing him of making a racist remark, how Antonio Conte was to blame for ending his time at Stamford Bridge and, of course, memories of that special night in Munich.


Mikel hadn’t been at Chelsea long before Claude Makelele took him to one side to provide a bit of a reality check and say how he’d be regarded from now on. Soon after joining from Oslo club Lyn in 2006 — a saga so complicated and controversial it will get its own piece soon enough — the teenager was warned by the experienced France international that he was never going to be talked about as one of the star names.

Despite forging a reputation as an exciting No 10 in Nigeria from an early age — he finished runner-up to Lionel Messi for the player of the tournament award at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship — manager Mourinho decided that he wanted to employ Mikel as a defensive midfielder at Chelsea.

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Mikel started his professional career in Norway in 2004 (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

For more than a decade, Mikel went on to live in the shadow of stars such as Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Eden Hazard. But he was fully prepared.

“The fans have two things in mind: putting the ball in the net or giving assists,” he says. “If you don’t do that, you’re unlikely to be a fans’ favourite.

“I did quickly grow to understand that. I spoke to Makelele during my first season. He knew I was going to one day take over the (defensive midfield) role from him. He told me, ‘Listen, you’re not going to get accolades playing in this position. You just have to do the dirty work, make sure the team wins and then all the glory goes to the strikers! Always’.

“When someone like that is talking, you pay attention. Claude continued by saying, ‘I have done this all my career. In Real Madrid I did it. Zinedine Zidane and the others got all the credit, I never got any’. Straight away I understood what I was getting myself into. 

“My reaction was, ‘I just want to play!’. At that age, it didn’t matter where I was selected. It’s crazy nowadays when I see players complaining about not playing in their favourite position. For me, it was just about being on the pitch, helping the team win games.

“When I first came to the club. I thought I was still going to play my role as a No 10 or maybe a No 8. I wasn’t really looking at Makelele, it wasn’t my position. But after Mourinho told me what he wanted, that’s how the chats with Claude started and he took me under his wing. He showed me how to master that position.“

Mourinho has consistently been criticised, particularly by frustrated Nigeria supporters, about how he used Mikel. As far as his fans from home are concerned, he took one of their greatest prospects and he stunted his growth.

Try telling that to the player himself, who speaks with great affection for Mourinho, even though he was on the receiving end of some tough treatment.

Mikel concedes he wasn’t the best professional at first, with timekeeping a particular issue. “I was late for training once before a Champions League game against Barcelona,” he recalls. “I thought it was starting at a certain time but it was earlier. I was just sitting around at home, I wasn’t even sleeping. I got a phone call from the player liaison officer Gary Staker and he was saying, ‘Where are you?… What do you mean you’re at home? Everyone is here waiting for you!’.

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Mourinho encourages Mikel before he comes off the bench against Arsenal in 2014 (Photo: AMA/Corbis via Getty Images)

“I was like, ‘Oh my god!’. As I was driving to Cobham, all I could think was, ‘What is he going to do to me? How am I going to walk into that dressing room looking at all those senior players and Mourinho?’. I didn’t know what to do.

“I walked in and he just looked at me and walked away. He had a chat with me afterwards, ‘You can’t do this’. But because it was such an important game, he didn’t want to create any distraction. He just let it slide a little bit. But he really gave it to me afterwards. I missed a few games, I was put in the stands and then after a while, he spoke to me again and it was all fine.”

There have been a lot of headlines generated during Mourinho’s time as manager at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur over his handling of some high-profile names. But Mikel has been watching from afar with a knowing smile, mystified why there is so much negativity.

He didn’t just help me football-wise, he was one of the guys who helped me grow up,” Mikel continues. “Coming to Chelsea, I acted like it would be the same as playing for Nigeria Under-17s. He quickly made me realise this was not the under-17s! There is no messing about anymore. I had to wake up. The Mourinho way of making you wake up is not easy. He will make you sweat, he will punish you in different ways. He doesn’t fine you a lot. He will show you with his actions. He will make you pay at the training ground. He will isolate you, he will put you out of the team, the squad. He will take you out of training.

“It is because he cares about you so much and really wants you to be that player because he knows you have that quality inside of you. Otherwise, he wouldn’t care. If he does things to you it’s because he really believes in you. I took it in the right way and I worked and I worked on myself. And then I became the player that he wanted me to be.

“When I see it happening to other players, I know exactly what he’s doing. He wants a reaction. He will do it again and again until he gets the reaction he wants. You just have to take it positively. The moment you take it in a bad way and he can see you’ve done that, it will get worse and worse. But if he gives you a little jab and you respond positively, he will be there to help you during those difficult times. I wish players would understand what he’s trying to do. It does work.”

And what of those people who suggest Mourinho didn’t make the most of Mikel’s ability with a football? “I don’t agree with them,” insists Mikel, now 33 and helping keep Stoke City’s play-off push alive in the Championship. “They were probably upset because they saw me as a creator of the Nigeria team.

“Obviously Mourinho was the one who changed things but I wouldn’t say he ruined my career or whatever! I still played as a No 10 for the national side. Mourinho is a manager I will always look up to.

“Of all the managers I had, he was the toughest. I knew that if I could survive him I could survive pretty much anyone! He made me who I am today. I will always be thankful to him.”

When the phone call came from his brother, Mikel just couldn’t believe history was repeating itself. Just hours before Nigeria were to play Argentina in the final group game to decide who would progress to the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup, he discovered his father had been kidnapped at gunpoint back in his homeland.

By this point, the young boy who found it difficult to adhere to Mourinho’s rules was long gone. He was captain of the national side, a leader. He had a family of his own with beloved partner Olga, twin girls making their family home in England a lively and lovely place to be.

But this news came close to breaking him in front of a global audience. It was understandable, especially since it wasn’t the first time it had happened.

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Michael Obi, Mikel’s father, after being freed from abduction in August 2011 (Photo: Aminu Abubakar/AFP via Getty Images)

When a new Chelsea manager is put in place, all you want to do is make a big impression, to convince the man in charge that you should be in the side from day one.

Andre Villas-Boas had decided to select Mikel for his first competitive fixture — at Stoke City — when it emerged Michael Obi (Mikel’s dad) had been abducted. Hardly the ideal preparation for such an occasion, but he quickly informed the club about what was going on.

Mikel says: “Villas-Boas called me into his office to talk to me about it. He needed me but obviously asked if I was in the mindset to play or if I wanted to sit this one out. But I just told him there was nothing I could do at that stage. I’d been making phone calls and so on but I had to do my job, I had to be strong. It was a very difficult moment.

“AVB (Villas-Boas) was like, ‘If that’s your decision, fine’. I travelled up to Stoke with the squad and played the game. But throughout the match, all I could think about was my dad and what was going to happen to him.”

The situation was resolved within a few days as Mikel agreed to pay a fraction of the sum his father’s kidnappers had demanded, but it took a lot of negotiation for a resolution to be found.

Mikel was no longer at Chelsea when it happened again seven years later. He didn’t have time to give it much thought and seek advice. Nigeria needed just a draw against Argentina to progress at the World Cup, his nation were expectant.

Looking back on what took place, Mikel still can’t believe it. “We had the team meeting and then I went back to my hotel room to get my stuff to go to the game. It was then that I got the phone call from my brother telling me about my dad. I was like, ‘What? Oh my god!’. I was out in Russia representing my country and some crazy people felt that they could go after my dad, doing terrible things to me and my family?

“I had an hour before we set off for the game to think about it. I wondered whether I should go up to the manager (Gernot Rohr) and say something, but in the end, I didn’t tell anyone. I thought about it in my room alone. I spoke to my mum, my brothers and I told them I would go ahead and play the game. It was a massive match for Nigeria. The team needed me, the country needed me.

“That was even harder to deal with than the first one. No one else knew about it. I had to go on the pitch and play the game. That was really, really terrible. I knew what my dad had been through the first time… so for it to happen again? I thought I was going to cry. I thought I was just going to fall to the ground and shout out. That’s how terrible it was. That’s how painful it was. But I had to do my job and play the game.”

A volley from Marcos Rojo secured a 2-1 victory for Argentina with just four minutes to go and Nigeria were knocked out of the tournament. As the captain, Mikel had to do all the post-match media duties one would expect. No one had an inkling of his inner turmoil. That evening in Saint Petersburg was a remarkable display of mental strength, one of his many underrated qualities.

Once again, money exchanged hands to resolve it. “A shitload,” Mikel admits. “I paid it in full. They kept telling me, ‘You have to, you have to. Everything’. It’s my dad. I had to do it.

“Do I fear a repeat? I have a big family back home and it’s always on my mind. It is a peaceful place where everyone lives. They’re in a safe place. But we are talking cowards here.”


There is only one incident in Mikel’s tenure at Chelsea that caused him to lose complete control and forget all the lessons Mourinho had taught him.

It was October 28, 2012, and Chelsea had just lost 3-2 against title rivals Manchester United in controversial circumstances. Referee Mark Clattenburg had sent off Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres, then Javier Hernandez’s winner was scored from an offside position.

Emotions were already running high as the final whistle blew. After reaching the home dressing room, Ramires approached his Chelsea team-mate with the claim that Clattenburg had racially abused Mikel.

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Mikel in action in 2008 (Photo: Phil Cole/Getty Images)

“I lost it,” Mikel concedes. “I was so angry. We’d lost the game as well. There were a few decisions he’d given that cost us the game. Everything just boiled up. That was it. I wanted to confront him, find out if he did say that word. I wasn’t really allowed to speak to him, he didn’t want to.

“It was crazy in the tunnel. I don’t think anyone at the club had seen me like that before. I had lots of people trying to hold me back… the players, the club. Everyone came out. It was a case of, ‘Try and stop me’. I wanted to break down that door to the referee’s room and ask him questions. I was livid.”

The incident was investigated by the FA, who decided there was no case for Clattenburg to answer. Mikel was handed a three-game ban and fined £60,000 after being found guilty of misconduct.

Ramires was key to the case as he was the only one who said he heard something untoward. Mikel didn’t hear it first-hand. In a statement, the FA said Ramires’s complaint was ‘made in good faith’. Chelsea accepted the findings and said they regretted the way the matter was handled.

Looking back, Mikel doesn’t blame Ramires or himself for what transpired. And despite being punished by the governing body, he has never said sorry to Clattenburg for it.

He added: “In the heat of the game, players go through emotions. Your colleague said they heard something, but they may not have heard right. Did he say it or not? I didn’t know. But if your colleague comes up to you, of course you’re going to trust what they say, someone you see and speak to every day.

“So I can’t apologise for something that my colleague said he (Clattenburg) did.”


The excitement down the phone is palpable. Our conversation has moved on to far happier subjects and memories of life at Chelsea. One will always stand out: winning the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in 2012.

How the game was won was covered in great detail by The Athletic last year, but one can forgive Mikel for wanting to cover old ground.

Of all the high-profile appointments made by owner Roman Abramovich to win him the competition, it was caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo who achieved it, having replaced Villas-Boas three months earlier.

Mikel regards Di Matteo fondly. He says: “Roberto was definitely the coach I played my best football for. I was at my best defensively and attacking-wise. He gave me the freedom to do that. I wasn’t scared of losing the ball. I wasn’t scared of making mistakes.

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Juan Mata, Mikel and David Luiz celebrate with goalscorer Drogba in the 2012 Champions League final (Photo: Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images)

“On day one, he took me into his office and said, ‘Listen, I want you to be the man, I want you to be my man. I can see what you can bring. No matter what, just play your football. I will back you. Go forward, defend. Play. Make the team play. Don’t be scared to lose the ball’. That gave me the belief to do just that. I played loads of games and I was the man. I was one of the first names on his team sheet.”

A fortnight before claiming the Champions League, Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley to lift the FA Cup. Few, though, gave them a hope of ending the season with a second trophy.

“The talent Bayern had was unbelievable,” Mikel says. “We didn’t play man-to-man. Di Matteo liked to play a style that was about how can the opposition react to us. 

“But my role that day was to sit back a bit more to protect David Luiz and Gary Cahill. They were both touch-and-go to make the kick-off because of hamstring injuries. They almost didn’t make it. 

“Soon after the game started, I saw the two of them looked a bit more confident so I was like, ‘OK, play your own game a bit more and try to help the team’.

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Mikel (front, far right) was a key part of Chelsea’s triumphant Champions League campaign (Photo: Hugh Hastings/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“I had lots of good games, but given what was at stake, that is definitely my best game for Chelsea. It was on the biggest stage. You have to show what you can do. We were playing on their home ground, in their stadium. It added to the pressure. 

“I pretty much did everything that day, defensively and going forward. It’s a game I’m proud of. What makes it more special is I saved my best performance for Chelsea’s biggest ever game. Not bad, eh?”

It certainly wasn’t easy. They went 1-0 down with seven minutes to go only for Drogba to equalise to take the game into extra time. The striker gave away a spot kick, but Arjen Robben’s penalty was saved by Cech. Then Juan Mata missed Chelsea’s first penalty in the shootout.

“We could see they were getting tired and frustrated. We knew it was within our reach, we could do it. We could feel it. We dug deep, went toe-to-toe with them. We were growing in confidence. Cech saving Robben’s penalty gave us another injection of belief.”

Perhaps the most surprising admission, given they clinched the trophy 4-3 on penalties, is that shootouts hadn’t been discussed too much in the build-up.

“We practised a little bit but not that much,” he reveals. “Nothing special. We didn’t think the game was going to get to that point. We knew we had the players who could take penalties. We didn’t have that aim to practise. But no, I didn’t put myself forward! 

“When we won, it was a massive party. We were all hungover on the plane home. Everyone was like… dead! But we were just desperate to get back to London to celebrate with our fans. You have to enjoy those moments. They don’t come around very often. You have to sit back and soak it all in.”

It is understandable why the Chelsea players wanted to make the most of it. Many of them had experienced four semi-final defeats and a loss to Manchester United in 2008 final before finally getting to hold the trophy.

Their defeat in 2009 on away goals to Barcelona in the last four summed up the heartbreak they had to endure. It was bad enough that Andres Iniesta’s crucial strike found the net in the 90th minute, but they had four penalty appeals ignored by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo.

Mikel was an unused substitute that night but what followed post-match is something he won’t ever forget — and not just because Drogba stormed onto the pitch in flip-flops to remonstrate with Ovrebo.

drogba referee barcelona
Drogba shows his fury in 2009… while wearing a pair of sliders (Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“It was chaos in the tunnel and the dressing room afterwards,” the midfielder says. “Bottles, things flying everywhere. Tables were being smashed. Everyone was shouting and screaming. Mind you, one could say that was normal after that Chelsea team lost games! I don’t know about now but losing back then was definitely not acceptable at all… but that was a really crazy night. Drogba lost it on the pitch and then it just carried on from there.”

In charge of that Chelsea side was Guus Hiddink, a temporary appointment following the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari in February that year. The Dutchman, who returned in 2015 following Mourinho’s second dismissal, still ended 2008-09 by winning the FA Cup.

“He was another who was like a father figure to me,” Mikel says of Hiddink. “Everybody called him ‘my dad’ in the club. A great guy, a lovely man on and off the pitch. Everyone looked up to him and respected him enormously.”

Another of his favourites was Carlo Ancelotti, the first and only Chelsea manager to achieve the landmark of winning the league and FA Cup in the same season. A year later, the Italian was fired. The club hadn’t won a trophy, but being runners-up to Manchester United in the title race was hardly a disaster.

“It was the most shocking of all the sackings because we were playing really good, attacking football,” Mikel says. “It came as a shock to us because of the relationship he had with us. We felt we were still doing well, playing well. Yes, we had bad runs but what he was trying to create and build in the club, he should have been given more time. His man-management is second to none. He was a great technician as well.”

The theory has always gone that player power plays a big factor in Chelsea’s high turnover of coaches. If things are going awry, influential squad members make their opinions known to the hierarchy to alter things. Scolari and Villas-Boas, who both didn’t even last a season, were regarded as two of the victims of this practice.

While not discussing any coaches in particular, Mikel has confirmed it did take place. He says: “In every club, you have the backbone, you have the ‘mafias’ if you want to call them that. You have players who, when things are not going their way, it will be a tough time for the club. That’s how you get these mafias.

“Player power is in every club, trust me. At Chelsea, we had that. There was player power because the players had served the club and done so for a long time. It’s their right to look after the club and make sure when things are not going well, that they look to get it back to the way it should be.

“If a manager is not doing well, the players have a right to… you know… voice their opinions and do whatever they can do to make sure the manager is changed… and then if that brings back success, happy days! Yes, we did things sometimes but it was only for the benefit of the club. It was not to the detriment of the club. If you have been at Chelsea for a long time, you fall in love with it and want to make sure it succeeds all the time.”

A record of 16 trophies in 18 years has shown this ruthless way of running a club has worked. It helps when you have the funds to buy some of the world’s best players.

Mikel would need a day to detail all the stars he admired. One of the individuals he wanted to single out, though, was Hazard, a man whose injury problems at Real Madrid have deprived the game of his exciting dribbling skills for most of the last two years.

Hazard joined Chelsea from Lille for £32 million in 2012 and Mikel could never believe what he was seeing from the Belgian on and off the pitch.

He says: “I’ve always said that one of the players who was the most gifted, had everything — pace, power, skill, technique — is Eden Hazard. He was just behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But it was only if he wanted to be. He was that good. He said it himself sometimes, ‘If I want to be as good, I can be as good. Not as good as Messi because he is from a different planet but I think I can get close to Ronaldo or maybe even better’. These are the words that came out of his mouth but he is not that dedicated to the game. He doesn’t train well, he is the worst trainer I’ve played with.

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Hazard, the club’s ‘worst trainer’, and Mikel in 2014 (Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“Why was he so bad? Oh my god! Eden, Eden, Eden… ahhhhh. Because he was so good, nobody said anything. He would turn up on a Saturday and win us the game, the man of the match. But on Monday and Tuesday, he would be at training and it was like he wasn’t even there. He just stood about, walking around. Everyone else is kicking each other, screaming in training matches and he didn’t do any of that. But you saw on the pitch how good he is. It’s just not fair that some people have that much talent!”

Inevitably, Drogba is held in the highest regard. “Didier was just unplayable,” he says. “The power and strength that he had were just ridiculous. He was a big-game player. He had lots of ego, it was just normal. But he was a lovely human being as well and took the time to talk to people, to staff, to the medical department, the kitchen staff. He was always friendly to everyone. He was one of those who kept the dressing room alive.”

Due to where he operated, Mikel rarely troubled the net himself. He managed six goals in all — an average of just one every 62 fixtures. “Yes, I played deep, but that’s not a good return at all!” he chuckles. 


Laughter quickly gives way to anger. There was only one man who didn’t pick Mikel for a single competitive game. He would also prove to be his last Chelsea coach — Antonio Conte.

The feelings of injustice seem to be as strong as ever. Mikel was 29 and still in his prime when Conte decided to freeze him out of Stamford Bridge. What was the cause of their falling out? The 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

It was Mikel’s ambition to win a medal for his country. Unfortunately, the competition was running between August 4-20. With time required to train beforehand, it meant missing a lot of pre-season under the Italian as well as the opening two Premier League fixtures if Nigeria reached the final.

But as far as Mikel was concerned, it was an easy decision to make. “I had been called up by my national team to play and it was a dream,” he says. “It’s a dream for anyone to go to the Olympics. Yes, as players we want to win the Champions League and the World Cup, but the Olympics is a massive tournament.”

Yet Conte, who had just started his reign as manager, wasn’t happy. Mikel continues: “This guy who has just walked in the door for five minutes is telling me I had to choose. He was saying, ‘If you do that, you won’t be a part of this team’. I spoke to the club and told them that I wanted to go. The club respected me because of what I had done for them and how long I’d been there. So off I went and I felt punished for that. I came back and I didn’t make the squad. I was never in the squad list on match days again.

“The funny thing is, just before the January window was going to start, he came up to me and said ‘I want a meeting with you’. This was after making me train on my own for months, treating a player who had been at Chelsea for a long time like this!

“When he tried to meet with me he was like, ‘Let’s try and make up, I will need you in the team, let’s squash this, blah, blah, blah!’. I was like, ‘Are you joking?! Are you fucking serious?!’ He knew I wanted out. I stood up and walked out of the room. You can’t disrespect a human being like that.

“I couldn’t wait for the window to open to get out. I was talking to the hierarchy and explaining that I would definitely have to go. And they agreed, they understood.”

Mikel was granted a free transfer in recognition of his service despite his deal still having five months left to run. He joined Chinese Super League side Tianjin Teda but he wouldn’t have gone anywhere if Conte hadn’t acted so harshly.

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Mikel moved to China in 2017 (Photo: Xin Li/Getty Images)

“From the very first day, he did not like me for some reason,” Mikel claims. “After everything I had done… yes, I wasn’t a Drogba scoring goals and this and that, but I gave loyalty. I helped the club. I helped win trophies. I played in most of the finals: Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup. I was a big part of the team so to be treated like that by a manager who had been there for a few minutes was very disappointing. It was nothing to do with the hierarchy, I had a good relationship with them. They treated me fairly until the end.”

Mikel is still performing at a good level for Stoke, having also had spells at Middlesbrough and Trabzonspor in the previous few years. But it is clear, despite the ignominy of his departure, that there is only one place he holds dear.

Would he consider returning to Chelsea after he retires, just as several ex-players have done, including Cech, now the technical and performance advisor, or Ashley Cole, the Under-15s coach? He replies: “I want to carry on playing for another three-four years, whatever it is. And then? I would love to go back to Chelsea in some way, in some capacity. But that’s a conversation to be had another day. I have a good relationship with them still so… hopefully. I’d love to help the club again.”

Whether he comes back or not, Mikel’s contribution to Chelsea should never be underestimated or forgotten.

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