Taken from the Pepsi football academy by Plateau united, one of Nigeria’s top flight clubs, John Michael Nchekwube Obinna was one of Nigeria’s brightest young talents. His immense capabilities however, ensured that he was well sought after by clubs outside the countries shores. Trials at Ajax Cape town of South Africa and a subsequent move to Norwegian club Lynn Oslo meant that his career was moving at a pace that footballers his age only dreamed about.
Things got even better for the Nigerian, who got an unexpected name change when the Nigerian football association submitted his name as ‘Mikel’ instead of Michael for the tournament in Finland. A name he kept and has now made famous. An amazing tournament at the 2005 world youth championship, in which he was second only to Lionel Messi, saw his stock rise and he’s signature courted by two of England’s elite clubs in Manchester United and Chelsea. A public tussle for his signature and a drawn out legal battle saw Chelsea football club finally win the race to sign the highly rated Nigerian International.
Mikel was rated at this time, as having the potential to be amongst the playmakers in the game of football. It was whispered in some quarters that the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson had chosen Mikel Obi to eventually be Paul Scholes successor at the club (Scholes eventually retired in 2013).
John Mikel Obi was a natural No.10. His long and short range of passing was impressive to say the least, and when in a tight corner could beat his man and take the ball forward into space. Every Nigerian was optimistic of having found the natural successor to the midfield maestro Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha. No one, not even the best scouts in the world saw any potential in the young lad as a defensive midfielder.
This perception was not improved by the red card Obi was given in one of his earlier matches for Chelsea against Reading in the premiership for two ill-advised tackles.
Due to certain absences in the squad, Jose Mourinho tried out the Nigerian in the defensive midfield holding role against Tottenham hotspur in their FA cup sixth round replay in which he impresses greatly. Displaying competence in his defensive positioning, ability to track or mark his man in a zonal system, and an above average strength. His long range of passing also proved surprisingly useful, in recycling possession to the attacking players. His ability to also slow down the tempo, when his team needed a break from attacking pressure was praised very highly. More impressive defensive displays in subsequent games, led to his being assigned the role full time, when Makalele left for Paris.
Subsequently, John Obi’s attacking impetus seemed to have suddenly disappeared. Except for the few times he appeared for Nigeria. Rumor had it that Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho eliciting the help of Claude Makalele, had given the Nigerian certain tips about how to effectively play his new position.
- Rarely ever give a risky pass or Gallop forward
A defensive midfielder is supposed to be the defensive anchor. And with fullbacks usually overlapping, the anchor man should always be ready to slot into central defense were one of original centre backs goes to cover a full back. Where he isn’t a hundred percent sure that a pass he’s about to give will get to its destination, the rule is never to give it. This was rumoured to have been the reason Mikel rarely made forward runs and rarely gave a risky pass.
- Rarely ever shoot
Every time an outfield player shoots the ball, there’s always a possibility of a block from the opposition team. The only exception to this rule in football is a penalty shootout. Now if a player who’s supposed to be a defensive shield, breaks the second rule and gallops forward, he should rarely shoot at goal as a block could rebound of a defender and a counter attack could be in full flow, with an out of position Anchorman to compound things.
Evidently Mikel listened and adapted to his situation and has been at Chelsea for 10years and counting and making over 400 appearances for Chelsea, in an Era were supposedly better players have been replaced by someone better. Jose Mourinho might have deprived Nigeria of a potentially lethal, attacking juggernaut. But in a club that are known for purchasing a host of attacking players that they rarely ever need, would Mikel still had been at Chelsea, if he was an attacker? Would he have beaten out the likes of Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Oscar?
At the end of the day Mikel’s career has been well served by Jose Mourinho’s decision to switch his position. He’s not one of the best players in the world and in my humble opinion he was never going to be. Coming 2nd in a youth tournament was never a guarantee of that. At the end of the day, John Mikel Obi would if given a choice beforehand, have settle for being one of the best and most decorated players in African football history.
To further portray my point;
John Mikel Obi Honours:
- Premier league (1)
- FA cup (4)
- League Cup (1)
- Community shield (1)
- Uefa Champions League (1)
- Uefa Europa League (1)
- Africa Cup of Nations (1)
- African young player of the year (2)
- 2nd best player of the world youth championship 2005.
So to answer the question; Did Jose Mourinho kill Mikel’s game by changing his role?
The answer is a resounding No. he brought about its evolution.