Nigeria’s Most decorated footballer John Obi Mikel turns 35 today (22 April 1987-2022). The Chelsea legend was subject of a transfer tussle between Chelsea and Manchester United in 2006.
16 years later many people are still wondering if Mikel Obi could have enjoyed an even more successful career if he made the move to Sir Alex Ferguson tutored Manchester United team that year.
For this writer the answer is NO.
Firstly, Manchester United has failed to be a successful home for African players. No particular reasons for this but it is what it is and history backs this assertion.
Quinton Fortune was the first African player to arrive at Manchester United (1999). The South African made 139 appearances for the Red Devils the highest by any African player till date (Eric Bailly 113 appearances ).
Below is a list of Africans at Manchester United from 1999-2022.
- 🇿🇦 Quinton Fortune
- 🇨🇲 Eric Djemba-Djema
- 🇦🇴 Gonçalves Manucho
- 🇸🇳 Biram Diouf
- 🇨🇮 Wilfried Zaha
- 🇨🇮 Eric Bailly
- 🇳🇬 Odion Ighalo
- 🇨🇮 Amad Diallo
- 🇹🇳 Mejbri
Aside Fortune and Bailly , None of this names were able to get regular playing time at the Manchester Club. They were at some point farmed out on loan and never returned.
Secondly, Mikel Obi flourished and enjoyed longevity at Chelsea due to a switch from his offensive to defensive Midfield role by then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Though many football fans will accuse the special One of stifling the offensive ability of the 2005 WYC Silver shoe winner, this decision may have actually contributed to helping him hit 249 appearances for Chelsea and Winning nearly every title available in club Football.
At United, Sir Alex Ferguson would have played Mikel Obi as an offensive Midfielder. A position that carries the pressure and demands of scoring many goals and providing some for the Strikers. Very few offensive players spend up to ten years at a particular Football Club because it demands consistency.
What would have happened if he did not score the goals or set up others to score Consistently ?. Just like Attackers, it takes real genius and hard work to deliver the goods consistently at the top level and Mikel was not a huge fan of hard work.
Yes , his early struggles at Chelsea where he was repeatedly fined for his Offield lifestyle and work rate is what may have prompted Jose Mourinho to revert him to a defensive Midfield role when need arose.
There he sat back to cover the Defence and spray the passes. A less engaging role than the offensive Midfielder who must attack and also track back to help in defense as well.
Also, Patience was not a virtue Sir Alex Ferguson had in large quantity. Mikel Obi’s struggling start to life at Chelsea would have seen him loaned out by Manchester United from where he could have ventured off limelight like the Manucho’s , Biram Diouf etc.
Another factor that would have affected Mikel Obi at Manchester United was the fact that he had his mind set on joining Chelsea and not Manchester United. For him it was Chelsea but his club Lyn Oslo preferred a move to Manchester United.
In an interview during the United/Chelsea tussle, Mikel Obi said: “They were speaking (Lyn) to me every day saying, ‘Sign for United, sign for United’, and there was the contract in front of me. But Chelsea made it clear they weren’t going to give up. They wanted me back.”
Immediately the lad openly confessed to preferring a move to Chelsea, the Clubs representatives then put in the work to wrestle him away from Manchester United who had already offered him contract papers to sign.
Mikel Obi’s only Challenge is the comparisons with the achievements of Argentine 2005 WYC Golden boy Lionel Messi. This has always attempted to dwarf the achievements of Nigeria’s most decorated footballer winner of..
2 English Premier League titles .
3 English FA Cup trophies.
2 League Cups.
1 Charity Shield .
1 UEFA Champions League title.
1. Europa League .
Rio 2016 Olympics Bronze medal
One AFCON (2013 )
Two Chelsea Young Player of the year awards.
3 AFCON Bronze medals.
This writer believes Talent is not just enough so the positional switch stole the entertainment to suit his work rate . Or how else will you explain the failure to hit the biggest stage by many Nigerian age grade discoveries who struggle to meet the demands of football at the highest level.
Joining Chelsea was the best for Mikel Obi and he will always be celebrated on days like this as a club legend .