MUST READ: In Defence of the legend Mikel Obi by Olu Alake (@olualake)

I may not be a fan of Mikel for obvious reasons of his ‘mistake’ of decamping from Manchester United (lol), but you can’t deny his staying power at chelsea. I believe he is a good footballer. He must be. To have been voted runner-up player to Lionel Messi eleven years ago at the world youth championship is nothing to be ashamed of. In his post (below), Olu made a resounding argument for John Mikel Obi. Not sure if he deserves the ‘legendary’ status though, but nonetheless, it is a good write-up. I hereby recommend you to subscribe to Olu Alake’s Culture Watch Blog. Read the post below and see why I recognise him as one of the most skilful writers I have read. I really look forward to presenting you with more excerpts from Olu’s blog. – Jide Salu

In Defence of Mikel Obi – A Legend.

One of the things that wind me up the most about football pundits who happen to be ex-professionals is when they seek to justify their arguments with the words “when you have played the game, you know that…” – as they then proceed to emit a flow of patronising pomposity daring anyone who has not had the privilege of being paid to kick a leather sphere around a field for a living to argue with them.

The fact that what they go on to say rarely makes much in the way of sense or is at best, subject to violent disagreement by other professionals, doesn’t seem to deter them. I got into one of my apoplectic rages last year while listening to a radio football programme, when one of the pundits scathingly questioned what John Obi Mikel has ever done to have deserved wearing the Chelsea shirt for almost 400 games. There was more of the same coming from many such pundits and fans last week, when Obi was at fault for one of the goals conceded by Chelsea in the Champions League match against PSG, although he then almost immediately rectified the error by scoring a rare goal to equalise, and by virtue of it being an all-important away goal in a narrow loss, that might yet turn out to be the critical moment in the tie.

The reaction to Obi has been typical of his career with the defending English champions – and indeed, with his career as a whole, as Nigerians have had some very testy things to say about him over the years as well. The moments of praise and appreciation have been few and far between. What many of the pundits seem to overlook is this: Obi has accumulated his almost 400 Chelsea appearances with 11 different managers. If they are all seeing something that not just the general public but the lesser educated pundits fail to see, I would suggest it is because he is doing something right.

it is tempting to wonder how differently Obi’s football career might have panned out if he had not allowed himself to be seduced by the Russian roubles on offer under Mourinho’s first stint at the club. Obi , then a precociously talented attacking midfielder who had starred at the 2005 World Youth Cup, being voted the tournament’s second best player (best player? A diminutive genius from Argentina, a certain Señor L. Messi). Then based at Norwegian club Lynn, a bizarre turn of  events resulted in Manchester United striking a deal with the player only for Chelsea to counterclaim that the boy was theirs. After FIFA arbitration, Obi was ordered to return to Norway where Chelsea then proceeded to strike the deal with the player.


Obi initially found himself on the bench, but was then called on to deputise for and eventually replace the legendary French defensive midfielder Claude Makalele. He has effectively held the position ever since. Over the years, Chelsea have brought in other players in that position to either replace or provide some competition for Obi. They come, they shine briefly, they falter and fall away and then the coach, regardless of whether Mourinho, Hiddink, Villas-Boas, Benitez or Di Matteo, call on Mr Reliable, and the shirt is his once more.

So what are the attributes of this player that splits opinion and causes such head-scratching agitation amongst professional and fan alike? One of the things that has marked Obi’s play is that he has excellent tactical awareness, impeccable if unsensational ball-playing skills, acute football intelligence and incredible discipline. For a natural attacking midfielder, it is quire remarkable that he plays to instruction and well  within himself so much so that he hardly ventures over the half-way line, plays the ball simply and quickly, and  because of his positional acuity, intercepts more than he makes tackles. This means that he hardly ever gets booked, hardly ever makes a defence splitting pass and hardly ever scores goals (7 goals in almost 390 games for Chelsea). These are the headline-grabbing things that the uneducated (or if a TalkSport presenter, under-educated) eye will notice: seeing what he is not doing rather than what he is, they question of what value is this man to the Chelsea cause?

For the Nigeria national team, his record has been patchier and he doesn’t elicit the same kind of affection that he gets at club level. This is unfortunate, because he has certainly worn the shirt with pride and if not with the distinction that people expect of the heir to Jay-Jay Okocha, that could be as attributable to the country’s chaotic administrative systems as it is with any perceived indiscipline or lack of commitment on Obi’s part. By any stretch of the imagination, Obi has been …… to finish the article.


Olu Alake
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