‘Member John Obi Mikel? The 29-year-old defensive midfielder has been on the books at Chelsea for 11 years now, but he’s yet to make an appearance in the 2016-17 season. In the previous three seasons, Mikel made a respectable 67 appearances for the Blues, but the length of those appearances averaged only 52 minutes.
Seeing Mikel appear next to the fourth official became the equivalent of popping a bottle of champagne for Chelsea supporters — if Mikel was coming on, victory was all but assured.
His longevity at Chelsea speaks volumes about his character and talent, and you can’t argue with Mikel’s honors either: he’s won the Premier League twice, the FA Cup four times, the Champions League, Europa League and the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria.
But since winning the African Young Player of the Year award in 2005 and 2006 and triggering a transfer war between traditional English power Manchester United and the nouveau riche Chelsea, Mikel has constantly divided opinions. For those who prefer a bit of flash with their footballers, his return of one goal in 249 EPL matches is derisible.
N'Golo Kante's stats compared to Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel last season pic.twitter.com/YJf0ef5JUb— Hon. Sensational (@OleleSalvador) July 17, 2016
When he was signed from Norwegian club Lyn back in 2006, the hype surrounding him was similar to another player who was concurrently making noise across the Atlantic — a 16-year-old Freddy Adu who was selected to the MLS All-Star team and had a short trial with Manchester United.
Like Adu, Mikel played as an attacking midfielder in his youth. But while Adu’s demands to play a central attacking role ultimately saw him cast aside by the likes of D.C. United, Real Salt Lake and Benfica, Mikel flourished in his transition to the holding midfield role.
His defensive discipline and selflessness made him indispensable to a series of Chelsea managers, but his lack of pace, invention and general antagonism towards highlight material went hand-in-hand with the defensive-minded Chelsea’s of Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Roberto Di Matteo.
Mikel is a mayonnaise footballer, while some might say he’s a necessity, others believe he just makes everything soggy.
Regardless, we’ll learn more about Mikel and where he sees his career moving over the course of this month. It’s incredibly easy to forget he’s only 29, but he could yet opt for the Far East and a mega money offer in China.
But more recent reports have also linked him with moves to Inter Milan and Valencia (the rumor that has generated the most noise).
The midfielder seems to be a supreme competitor as exemplified by his leading Nigeria to an Olympic bronze in Rio. While he won’t exactly be missed by viewers of the Premier League, he’s still a footballer whose name will forever be linked with the rise of Chelsea.