Firstly, and I’ve been itching to clear this up for a while now, I can officially confirm that his claimant’s name is John Michael Obi. Mikel, as his shirt is decorated, derives from a typo on a team-sheet when he represented Nigeria U17’s, he consequently adopted the name and, as his father stated, he “considers that his football name.”
With John Mikel Obi’s somewhat controversial transfer to the Premier League well and truly behind him, five years on he has well and truly found his home in West London. But, it has been a far from easy journey for the young Nigerian.
Early life in the capital saw John Mikel Obi fined three times, sent off on a number of occasions and heard voiced concerns about lifestyle choices from both manager Jose Mourinho and his father, Michael – a period which saw the midfielder dropped for over a month as a result. Post haste, Mikel returned to the side after an obvious improvement in his punctuality and conduct.
Since a very early age Mikel had assumed the ‘No. 10’ position for both club and country, he generally excelled in that role, and it was precisely that to which the £16m Chelsea spend was intended for. Although, come the latter stages of the 2006/2007 season, Jose Mourinho took a decision to convert the once attacking playmaker into a defensive midfielder.
As of this transition, it’s fair to say, there has been somewhat of a stigmatism surrounding the Nigerian. Much of Mikel’s attributes had been lost during a transitional period in which many only saw short sideways passes and timid, deep lying movements from what they probably still saw as a pressing midfielder. Since, Mikel has been entrusted with the role into which he has grown into progressively, assigned with responsibility during significant matches, even during the early stages of the alteration (Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, and FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou of noteworthy performances.)
Much of the criticism for Mikel derives from the fact that he can be slow and not progressive enough, although this can be significantly attributed to the partnership with Michael Essien [another African attacking midfielder who has evolved defensive tendencies since his arriving at Stamford Bridge, I can see a pattern emerging] who has adapted a similar role to Mikel. The injury and exclusion of Michael Essien could directly aid Mikel’s game. Incidentally, it was in similar circumstances, 2008/2009 season, in which John Mikel Obi arguably had his best season since joining Chelsea.
To understand Mikel is simply to understand the defensive midfielder.
Consistently one of the highest pass completion rates in the Premier League for the past few seasons, Mikel’s ball retention allows Chelsea to feel secure in their own game, translating into a greater disposition throughout the side. This, in turn, allows full-backs the freedom to venture higher up the field, an important element of Chelsea’s attacking properties, whilst the centre backs divide to assign for Mikel. Unlike many fellow defensive midfielders, he also has the ability to play the long ball, to the gratitude of many in recent times.
Mikel has always had the ability to read the game well and this translates particularly well into his adopted position. Sitting in front of the centre backs, his imposing figure has matured to allow for an increasingly developed sense of where to be, this can indirectly be supported by the fact that he’s become the steadily declining recipient of admonition.
With Andre Villas-Boas likely to use a 4-3-3 formation it puts further emphasis on the holding midfielder role, but Mikel, as seen throughout much of last season can solicit the role tremendously well.
An understated role that takes patience, a quality Mikel is consistently developing, the defensive midfielder will prove a vital and necessary role to many teams success in the coming year; however you will be hard pressed to find many who perform it quite as well as the young Nigerian. The fact that he performs the role with such maturing is testament to his solidarity and is even more surprising considering it may not be his natural position.
Mikel has shown himself to be a responsible individual, in an important position, at just 24 years of age, both the additions to the West London side and those who continue to perform alongside him will benefit palpably from his existence.
Only recently has John Mikel Obi’s importance as part of this Chelsea side has been recognised, but he will go into the 2011/2012 season as an integral part of the side.
By Ben Pinkney – Chelsea fan – @benpinkney42