On Sunday evening, John Obi Mikel picked up his ninth professional title in England as Chelsea lifted the Premier League trophy at Stamford Bridge.
No other player in Nigeria’s football history has generated so much attention in the international market than Mikel. In fact, considering him as the most successful Nigerian footballer of this era will never be moot. At a time when many had predicted his time was up in west London, Hope – as his igbo name ‘Nchekwube’ implies, waxed stronger and kept adding laurels to his trophy cabinet.
Truth be told, Nigeria has produced many brilliant players over the years; the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Sunday Oliseh, Jay-Jay Okocha, Daniel Amokachi and Finidi George. But perhaps none of these icons have consistently the success that Mikel has whilst featuring in Chelsea’s route to major honours.
In nine seasons with the Blues, Mikel has enjoyed unparalleled success boasting of nine domestic silverwares plus two on the big European stage. In a season or two, chances are that he would eclipse Kanu’s record of 13 (in club football), yet his disparagers feel that his inability to tie down regular first team action with the Pensioners means that he should not be seen as one of Africa’s greatest exports to Europe.
Permit me to ask here that if ‘the Catalyst’ is as bad as many suggest, why has he always won the hearts of managers who have been employed and thrown out of Stamford Bridge? Why has he not been shipped out to other teams like others considered as surplus to requirement in the Roman Army?
Attesting to Obi’s eminence, former Nigeria international Mutiu Adepoju told Goal that it would be unfair and sheer a caustic exercise to tag him as a swashbuckler who picks up medals from the bench.
An overall record of one goal in 20 games for Jose Mourinho’s men in an injury-plagued season may not be great, but it is quite commendable, and a tally of just two cautions is appalling for a man of his purported brilliance in terms of defensive ability.
But assertions made on purely a statistical basis are often unwise, instead it’s his performance in such games of importance which continue to fuel the notion that he’s nothing more than a bully who fails to deliver when pressure and expectation is at its maximum.
There is no doubt that Mikel has often been the man for the big occasion – his goal against Sporting Lisbon is a perfect example. His strike increased his side’s lead as they went ahead to win 3-1 – and also ensured he was named man of the match.
Benched by Mourinho in late 2014, injured on his return and then Nemanja Matic in the pecking order at the Bridge, even now Mikel is still recovering his friable confidence.
The naysayers would always forget that aside his defensive ability, he has been a fantastic asset when it comes to ball passing. His successful pass rate of 90.4 % in all competitions [ 87.5% in the Champions League and 90.7% on the domestic scene] is worthy of praise, especially when you compare with Mourinho’s preferred option Matic’s 87.1%.
Let’s make no mistake about it, Mikel is a living legend of the game and his never say die attitude must be commended.
Any way it is looked at, his achievement is prodigious – and remarkably it is getting better. To suggest he is overprized is impertinent, naïve and simply laughable.
Viva, Africa’s unsung hero.