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Mikel Begins To Make His Mark


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From The Sunday TimesMikel begins to make his markChelsea's trust in child prodigy reaches maturity as memories of Gullit return to Stamford BridgeA FEW years ago Manchester United and Chelsea temporarily forgot about football, preferring instead to roll up their sleeves and play tug-of-war. The prize was a young Nigerian called John Michael Obi. They pulled and pulled and, in the end, Chelsea’s superior (financial) strength won the war and the teenager began a new football life at Stamford Bridge. Was he worth the millions? We know him now as Mikel, a name first pinned on him by the manager of Nigeria’s Under17s not quite sure about the spelling of “Michael”. He has grown into a formidably strong young man and is learning his trade at a tough academy. With Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and the soon-to-return Michael Ballack, Chelsea are not short of midfield players. Time will determine how good Mikel becomes, but it is fascinating to watch his progress. Like the rest of Chelsea’s midfield yesterday, he couldn’t find the space to breathe through a first half suffocated by West Ham’s energy. Passing the ball was out of the question and when the Hammers laced their energy with some sharp tackling, it was Mikel who rose to the challenge or, more accurately, took the bait. Thirty-eight minutes in, he lunged recklessly at Scott Parker and in the modern way, the stricken Parker only returned to life after Howard Webb had brandished a yellow card. The tackle wasn’t much better than the one that got Mikel sent off at Old Trafford two months ago and had Webb been less understanding, it could have been the end of the Nigerian’s afternoon. Blame him if you will, but testosterone is not always the 20-year-old’s best friend. To his credit, Mikel appreciated the second chance and he was excellent through the second half. There was a smile on his face, a wonderful enthusiasm in his play and, strangest of all, he played like a young man who understood how fortunate he is to have talent and a fine stage upon which to perform. He became the game’s most influential player. Mikel reads the game well, although he’s not yet Makelele in this department. At his age, how could he be? Yet he has his own qualities and in full flow yesterday, you wondered how Chelsea could ever leave him out. What was especially admirable was his willingness to play the Premier League game: he won a lot of headers, made a lot of tackles and always did what he thought was best for the team. In their 14-match unbeaten run (11 wins, 3 draws) under Avram Grant, Chelsea have been without John Terry on seven occasions. Yesterday they were without Ricardo Carvalho and that meant another first-team start for Alex. Strong in the air, the Brazilian is vulnerable when confronted by a player with pace and there were a couple of occasions yesterday when Carlton Cole threatened to skin him. It didn’t happen because Mikel stayed true to his role and ensured that West Ham simply couldn’t get enough ball through to their tall striker. Mikel’s dinner last evening should have been on Alex. You wonder what Makelele, who was rested yesterday, thought of it all? He certainly would have admired Mikel’s stamina in the second half because as the game opened up, he seized every opportunity to counter-attack. Whenever there was space, he burst from defence and, with his long, loping stride, he is powerful. Like all great defensive midfielders, he refuses to give the ball away. If you want to understand how significant his contribution yesterday, consider that Frank Lampard achieved little against his former club and poor Steve Sidwell tried his damnedest not to seem like a Reading midfielder in Chelsea’s blue – but didn’t quite succeed. There was a moment, too, that hinted at the depth of Mikel’s talent. On one of the rare occasions he went past the halfway line, he lofted the most delightful pass over West Ham’s defence and into the path of Salomon Kalou. It was, perhaps, the most creative moment in the match but Kalou couldn’t quite get the ball under control and the chance was lost. With his princely, upright bearing, there are times when Mikel reminds one of Ruud Gullit but the mere mention of him alongside so great a player is to recall what Mikel doesn’t have. We speak, especially, of his lack of a change of pace. That wasn’t a problem yesterday but, long term, it may mean that the anchor role will be the one to which he is best suited. But any qualification has to be placed alongside his age. He is playing in a position of great responsibility for one of the leading sides in Europe. He will benefit from experiences such as yesterday’s. From Chelsea’s point of view, if Mikel’s only contribution was to allow Avram Grant to rest Makelele, he would be worth having around. But Mikel is better than that and even now, if you had to chose between he and Makelele, he would win a lot of votes. To the fundamental question of whether he was worth the fuss kicked up by Manchester United when he was stolen from under their noses, the answer is obvious. Of course, he was.
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Great to see someone in the press finally give Mikel some credit, every single other young player gets untold praise on them when they play well because they are young. And Mikel deserves the same.Mikel is a class class player, he is getting better all the time. I hope that the holding role is not going to be a permanant role for him because as we say on Saturday he can offer so much to us going forward and can be a fantastic creative influence.It is going to be fantastic watching this young man grow into a truly world class player.

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Again I find myself agreeing 100% with you Esk. I too hope he isn't stuck in the holding role as good as he is there. But he has a certain something going forward and because of his size he is a match for most defenders and in full flight with the ball he makes an fearsome attacking player.

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He is a raw talent. He has a natural ability of being strong and commanding, giving him good defensive credentials, but he is an exciting player going forward and if he were to be played in a more advanced role, it would give Lampard the freedom of the park. He has a great talent.

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It does also go to show that you can be a youngster and get regular first team football at Chelsea. Mikel is an special talent and there won't be many come through like him but it can be done.Last season we watched Mikel grow from a raw talent into a fantastic prospect. This season we are watching that prospect grow into one of the best midfielders around, in a year or 2 there will be none better than him.

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a great young talent when i watch him playing on the pitch i just know that in the future he is going to be a star, he is so stong on the ball and he knows what he doing at all times, one hting he needs to fix is just the way he goes in for the ball sometimes its a bit to dangerous and hes already got 3 red cards for us so he just need to hold back a little bit and make sure its times a bit better..

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I think mikel should play more advanced and essien should play the anchor role at home matches. When teams come to the bridge they want to defend i.e west ham so mikel's creativity would come handy.
Yup would agree with that. Besides with Essiens shooting it is pointless to have him that high up the pitch anyway :D
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its not just because he is young.. if that is the case then why isn't others like Fabregas etc getting sent off? he needs to learn to cool his temper
You occassionally get players like Mikel who want to make huge impressions on the game. He is young and wants to impress, it is hardly surprising he goes into every challenge commited. It isn't his temper, its just he is often a little too keen to get involved, IMO
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its not just because he is young.. if that is the case then why isn't others like Fabregas etc getting sent off? he needs to learn to cool his temper
It's not like he's suggesting everyone young has a temper and a tendency to fly into needless tackles, but when someone does, it is usually down to youthfulness and lack of experience.
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