|Mikel needs to make a Decision.|
“If you stand still in football for a moment, you’ll move backwards”. Words of a silver haired wily old-fox called Sir Alex Ferguson. This statement embodies everything that is John Obi Mikel’s club career.
This 2013/2014 season is John’s 8th season at Chelsea Football Club. In that time, he has amassed a plethora of laurels (1premier league title, 1 Uefa Champions League title, 1 Europa league title, 4 FA cups, 1 league Cup and the community shield in England).
But it is in this 8th season that i despair for Mikel’s career at the bridge. This is because Mikel (27) has seemingly stagnated and Nemanja Matic (26) is the former deputy who wants to be the new sheriff in town.
|Matic and Mikel in Training.|
To contrast the fortune of these two players, I will use the final game of the 2010 double winning season where Chelsea destroyed an abject Wigan team 8-0.
John Obi Mikel had been a dependable component of the Chelsea side all season and participated in 34 games with merit. He was injured at the tail end of the season but rightfully hogged the Premier league trophy during the awards ceremony. He had played his part.
Nemanja Matic played 3 games as a substitute for Chelsea all season and participated in the last 20 minutes of the tie against Wigan after coming on for the German Michael Ballack. He looked lost during the trophy presentation and probably didn’t feel like he should have been there, much like Tomas Kuzsczak, Stéphane Guivarc’h, Winston bogarde and Harry Kewell at some point in their respective careers. But I digress…
You see, my aim is to set a scene in the mind of the reader as to the ensuing divergence of the careers of these players from that point onwards.
While Mikel stuck to what he knew best- ball retention without risk in choice of his pass –, Matic’s dissatisfaction with his situation at Chelsea saw him loaned to Vitesse Arnhem for the 2010-2011 season, and at the midway point of that season he was recalled and used as a makeweight in the deal which confirmed David Luiz as a Chelsea player. In taking so many sideways steps, Matic found purpose and desire.
In not motivating himself enough to increase by 5%, Mikel is now on the cusp of being unseated by yes…..Nemanja Matic.
|John Obi Mikel in action.|
But has Mikel not served Chelsea dutifully?
The Answer to that is somewhat obscure. I’ll demonstrate with an experiment which has two steps.
1, Firstly, determine to yourself Mikel’s most influential game for Chelsea Football Club.
2, Secondly, Talk to an avid football fan and question him on the same topic.
I expect that if you try this with 5 people, none of them will come up with the same answer. Mikel’s moments are fleeting at best and very inconsistent.
It is no wonder he has been shunted in the past for the likes of Oriol Romeu, David Luiz and now Matic. Not forgetting Van Ginkel as well, who will transform to a midfielder of class.
I despair also because of Jose Mourinho. He is ruthless in turning over players at the slightest hint of inadequacy.
|Jose does not suffer fools.|
Incidentally, he told CNN reporter Pedro pinto in a 2012 interview that his ruthlessness was one of the stronger points of his managerial nous.
Mourinho said, “I just try to be honest with them, even to say to a player, next season i don’t count on you, next season I want you to leave, I don’t send messages by anybody, I am always direct to them”.
I suspect this conversation has taken place between Mourinho and Mikel. And this time, Mourinho has used “somebody” to buttress his point.
In the 18 games Chelsea have played since Nemanja Matic returned to Stamford Bridge in January, John Obi Mikel has started just twice and appeared as a substitute seven times as opposed to his 12 starts and 10 sub appearances prior to January. It is not rocket science to ascertain that Matic has influenced his playing time negatively. Mikel has lost Mourinho’s trust so badly that he does not feature in the UEFA champions League where Matic is cup tied. That honour goes to the more aggressive and combustible David Luiz.
|Mikel and Mourinho.|
I understand Mourinho. He doesn’t have a striker and this influences his team selection. Chelsea virtually play with 9 outfield players and a statuesque dummy up front, this calls for pro-activity from the rest of the ranks for winning matches. With Mikel in the team, it almost feels like Chelsea has 8 outfield players.
|Mikel scores against Derby in FA Cup.|
Though many will argue about his two goals this season, both borne of set piece situations, I’ll argue about the importance of those goals, the lack of assists in Mikel’s name, the lack of risk to obtain reward, the lack of dynamism in his midfield play. Honestly, there’s much going against Nigeria’s golden boy.
My bewilderment at Mikel’s timid performances for Chelsea is magnified when i see him take to the field for the Super Eagles. He is 70% inspiration and 30% perspiration, he is a genius, he ran xavi and iniesta ragged at the confederations cup for 30minutes, he scores occasionally, he is confident, he is the point of reference.
|Mikel vs Spain|
Do these coaches not watch International matches, or is Mikel inhibited by the quality on hand at Chelsea? When i visited the very multicultural Chelsea dressing room on a stadium tour in 2012, Mikel’s locker was next to that of Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba, these were his best friends and brothers at Chelsea. Drogba was important to Mikel’s emergence and fended for him in the dressing room hierarchy. Drogba and Salomon kalou have since moved on and you wonder who Mikel learns from now and also if he has any friends left.
|Mikel, Drogba and Kalou.|
Shy and polite, is he wise enough to stand the politics of a Mourinho dressing room? I fear that Mikel does not have a confidante anymore and this has affected his demeanour at Chelsea. He often looks sullen and lonely on the substitute’s bench.
My Prediction: John Obi Mikel will leave Chelsea football club or at least he should for his own sake.
Enter Inter Milan.
Lacking an identity since the departure of the special one in 2010, the Nerazzurri are all at sea. Inter owner, Erick thohir’s plan to do a Tottenham for the 2014/2015 summer will not bear immediate fruit.
After the acquisition of Vidic, Mooted transfer targets include Bacary Sagna, Edin Dzeko, Fernando Torres, Javier Hernandez, Alvaro Morata, Javi Garcia and JOHN OBI MIKEL. In essence, a scatter gun approach aimed at players in an adverse moment at their current clubsides.
Inter are deficient in so many ways as a team, splashing the cash to bring in big players when currently on course to qualify for the Europa league does not sound sustainable.
Furthermore, the projects at Juventus, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina will be too far ahead by the time this Nerazzurri new dawn begins to take shape.
If hypothetically, these wishes come true and deals are struck, I can picture how Mikel will be used by Inter coach Walter Mazzarri and sadly, that picture develops to nothing more than a water carrier role, much like Walter Gargano during Mazzarri’s time at Napoli. A disciple he took along to Inter.
|Gargano, Mazzarri's Soldier.|
I say so because the playmaking position is already catered for. Hernanes is being bedded in for that role next season, lest we forget the presence of Guarin, Kovacic and Alvarez who are good schemers on their day. Working against Mikel also is the preferred slight frame for trequartista’s in Italy, and also the tactical flexibility required. Scoring goals (10-15 a season) will not be frowned upon either. There’s much to contend with here too!
Inter is not the club for Mikel. Which club is then?
I will give 4 options.
THE SAVING GRACE
Arsenal, AS Roma, Atletico Madrid, and Manchester United.
|Garcia demands Dynamism.|
Apart From Manchester United, I have picked the other three teams because i feel their managers will free Mikel of his inhibitions. Arsene Wenger (if he stays) will encourage expansion in his passing. Rudi Garcia of Roma will add dynamism to Mikel and he can be a sure starter if the deal for Radja nainggolan is not completed.
As for Diego Simeone, we know quite well what he expects from his players and the impetus which he gives to them too. With Manchester United, anyone can improve their midfield in its current state.
Will the comforts of London be too big an expense for Mikel in the Pursuit of Happiness? I can’t say, but what is for certain is that many are watching his next move. I hope it won’t be Inter Milan. Mikel and his agent better get to work sooner rather than later.