John Obi Mikel announced his retirement from football on Tuesday, and it brings an end to what has been a storied, if not criminally underrated by many, including the teeming Nigerian football fraternity. Heralded as one of the most gifted young players in the world back in 2005 following his exploits at the then-named World Youth Championships, a tournament for U-20 players in the world, he shone like a million stars alongside Lionel Messi, who has since gone on to become one of the greatest players in the history of football.
Say all you want about how Mikel went from a gracious attacking midfielder to becoming a defensive midfield stalwart for club and country, Mikel excelled at doing the simple things, and while this is something most football stakeholders understood as doing the basic things, all the players that played with and against him understood that this was a man that was unflappable under pressure, calm in the tightest of spaces, and with the eye for a pass that could rival Pablo Picasso’s grace on the canvas.
Criminally underrated, Mikel goes down as one of, if not the most successful players in Nigerian football history, as well as a stalwart for Chelsea for 11 years, culminating in what was perhaps his finest moment in a Blues shirt, a remarkable performance in the 2012 Champions League Final that defied all forms of logic and cemented his legacy in the minds of all the Chelsea faithful all around the world.
” You have been an exemplary player and done great things in your career. Here’s wishing you the best as you retire today. Cheers to bigger things ahead and best wishes to you and the family. @mikel_john_obi ❤️🎉👏 ”
The above statement was from the current Super Eagles of Nigeria Captain, Ahmed Musa, to the Erstwhile, Mikel Obi in his post to him after he announced his retirement.
Mikel, undoubtedly was such a resilient leader for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Mikel received news that his Father had been Kidnapped and would be killed if he reported anything – a few hours before leading Nigeria into their final World Cup group phase game against Argentina.
Mikel left this undisclosed to anyone and put the trauma aside as he featured for 90 minutes against Argentina which Nigeria lost 2-1 courtesy Marcos Rojo’s late winner.
“I played while my father was in the hands of bandits,” Mikel said. “I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kick-off to tell me what had happened.
“I was emotionally distraught and I had to make the decision about whether I was mentally ready to play. I was confused. I did not know what to do but, in the end, I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down. I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I could not even inform the coaches or NFF staff and only a very tight circle of my friends knew.
“I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody. I also did not want to discuss it with the coach [Gernot Rohr] because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to him or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. As much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not.” He told the Guardian
Unarguably, Mikel was an exemplary figure for both the national team and his club. On doing great things in his career, this conversation comes very strong, but should honestly not be a fuss. Mikel won every major honor possible in his 11-year spell at Chelsea.
For the national team, there’s always that talk of his numbers, likewise for the club. Yeah Mikel in 269 games for Chelsea scored just once. For the Super Eagles of Nigeria, 6 goals in 91 games. Where then is all the talk of a fantastic career coming from? A good question, but are we going to get to that point where we allow statistics alone to rule football judgement? Did I say are we? Perhaps we’re at that stage already and it’s reaching advancement.
On transit, some time last year, seated beside two guys having a conversation around the Super Eagles of Nigeria. One of them said in Yoruba “ Nigeria o ti è wa ní àwón player gidi mo bayi” (Nigeria no longer have good players), the other replied “ Ò pàŕò ŕàŕà, làiyé àwòn Mikel, Osaze, Kanu, àwòn àgbà nìyèn oo ( That’s true, the days of Mikel, Osaze, Kanu, those are great players).
A grin on my face, hearing that, as a freak of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Remembering exploits of those names listed, and others not even listed. Mikel especially, the way he bossed the midfield for Nigeria, Mikel was so creative, he was so gifted with the ball, he hardly lost the ball going forward.
On the road to Nigeria’s Bronze Medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics Mikel on and off the pitch was highly instrumental to that feat.
Mikel took it upon himself to spend money for the team, when it was said that the team didn’t have their needs provided for them by the ministry.
In an Interview with Goal, he said:
” I think if we talk about the money that I put into the team I think it was more th.an [£30,000], But we just had to do it.”
“I said to myself, ‘I won’t let this happen. If I can help, I’ll try to help’. Sometimes there was no food, sometimes there was no pitch to train on, there was no bus to go to the training ground. So all of this was what me and the coach had to figure out, and get money together”
“I came to the camp. I sat down with the boys in Atlanta and I could see the frustration, the pain and the anger. Their aim was to play in the Olympics, their goal was to play in the Olympics.”
“And for me being there and seeing what they are going through, they are young boys, they want to start their career and someone in the ministry is trying to crush that dream.”
That off the pitch effort eventually paid off, and on the pitch also, Mikel showed class when it was needed the most. In the bronze medal game against Honduras, It was a Mikel Obi show as he had a handful of effects to the three goals that saw Nigeria win the Bronze medal.
What’s more heroic than these?? It was Nigeria’s only medal for that Olympic game in Rio.
When he even played for Chelsea As a defensive midfielder, his superb composure on the ball and natural strength of the ball, saw him Flourish in midfield alongside names like Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien.
At the Allianz Arena in Munich in 2012, Mikel produced a performance for the ages as he was comfortably Chelsea’s top performer on the night, perhaps the best player on the pitch as Chelsea won their first ever UEFA Champions League trophy.
The elegant, classy midfield anchor did not tire of breaking up Bayern’s offensive efforts on the night, providing a much-needed shield in front of a barely-fit Gary Cahill and David Luiz at the back.
Perhaps without the display from Mikel, Bayern maybe would have outshone the Blues and scored more before Drogba got a late minute equalizer.
At Chelsea FC, Mikel won 2 English Premier League titles , 1 UEFA Champions League title , 1 UEFA Europa League title , 3 FA Cup titles and 1 league cup in 372 appearances for the blues .
Mikel may not have the numbers in terms of goals, but he had everything as a footballer, he had a career that made Nigeria Proud.