Calm, composure, guile, and intelligence on the ball, summarise one of the best midfielders of his generation. John Mikel Obi wasn’t the flamboyant of midfielders but he was consistent throughout his playing days for Nigeria & his clubsides. On Tuesday, September 27th 2022, the former Nigeria captain and midfielder, had announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 35, via his Instagram account. This comes after 20 years of playing the game at the highest level, culminating in many successes, and trophies.
The 35-year old started his professional career in Jos with Plateau United in 2003, before ending his career in 2021 with Kuwait SC. He first started playing for Nigeria in the 2003 FIFA under-17 World Champions held in Finland at 16 years old.
A lanky 12 year old kid from Jos, caught the eyes of scouts from the famed Pepsi Academy among 3,000 young talents. He would make headlines for Nigeria as a creative force at the FIFA Under-17 World Championships held in Finland in 2003. A clerical error by the Nigerian FA in the build-up to the Under-17 World Cup in 2003 changed his name from Michael to Mikel – a mistake that became a brand name. After the tournament, he had a trial at South Africa club Ajax Cape Town, before joining Oslo-based club Lyn Fotball in Norway at age 17.
The World took notice of the talented youngster during the 2005 FIFA U20 World Cup at the Netherlands, where he imposed himself as Nigeria’s most important player. He narrowly missed out on the best player of the tournament award, coming second to the great Lionel Messi after Argentina had pipped Nigeria to the trophy with a 2-1 win at the final.
After the tournament, it was a tug-of-war between Manchester United and Chelsea Football Club, two English giants who desperately wanted his signature. After signing for Manchester United on 29 April 2005, a few days after Mikel turned 18, he would make a U-turn to sign for their rivals, Chelsea in one of Football’s greatest transfer saga. When the saga was finally resolved after a year of back and forth dealings, court filings and FIFA complaints, he joined Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the summer of 2006.
Although he was an attacking midfielder / Advanced playmaker, Jose Mourinho saw him as a deep-lying playmaker / Defensive Midfielder and morphed his game into that – he would later become Chelsea’s water-carrier in midfield. Mikel would enjoy an 11-year stint at the west London club, amassing 372 appearances in all competitions, scoring six goals and making 13 assists. The biggest highlights of his career came when it took him until his 185th game for the club to score his first goal.
The former Super Eagles skipper won several laurels including two league titles, three FA Cups, one Champions League, a League Cup, Community Shield, and a Europa League trophy.
His best moment in a Chelsea Jersey came during the 2011/2012 season when he won the UEFA Champions League for the London side, after they defeated Bayern Munich on penalties. Mikel gave an outstanding performance in the tournament especially in the final match where he was immense in the midfield.
Mikel Obi made his debut for the Super Eagles of Nigeria on 17 August 2005, when he came on as a second-half substitute in a 1–0 friendly win over Libya. He featured in 6 African Cup of Nations lifting the cup in 2013, while helping Nigeria to a third place finish in 2006, 2010, and 2019. The 2013 AFCON win remains his biggest achievement with the National Team.
Mikel was the captain of Nigeria’s Dream Team that won bronze at the Summer Olympics in 2016, scoring one goal. He also featured in two FIFA Men’s World Cup, making his debut in 2014 with a man of the match performance against Iran. He captained Nigeria at the 2018 Mundial in Russia. He made a total of 89 international caps for the Super Eagles. He has represented Nigeria at all levels, featuring at the U17, U20, U23 and Men’s level.
After leaving Chelsea as a free agent in 2017, Mikel played for Chinese club Tianjin Jinmen Tiger (1017), Middlesbrough (2019), Trabzonspor player (2019), Stoke City (2020), and, and lastly Kuwait SC in 2021. Mikel last played professional football on October 20, 2021 for Kuwait SC in a 2-0 defeat to Al-Muharraq, after which his contract was terminated 15 days later. He was a Trabzonspor player in the 2019-2020 season and won the Turkish Cup with his team.
FIFA World Youth Championship Silver Ball: 2005
CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year: 2005
Chelsea Young Player of the Year: 2007, 2008
CAF Team of the Year:2005, 2013
Africa Cup of Nations Team of the Tournament: 2013
African Footballer of the Year runner-up: 2013
The journey of the relatively unknown boy from Jos to becoming a global icon and National Pride, amassing accolades and honours, making him one of the most decorated Nigerian (and African) players. He may not have had the flamboyance playing style of Austin Okocha or the silky touches of Nwankwo Kanu, however, his longevity and most importantly, the AFCON triumph makes John Mikel Obi, arguably the greatest footballer to have worn the Green and White jersey of the Nigerian National Team.