By Ortese Brian
Eight years have passed since John Obi Mikel was second only to one at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The 18-year-old Nigerian was awarded the Silver Ball at the 2005 tournament in the Netherlands, donated by the sportswear company Adidas to the competition’s second-most impressive talent.
The name of the player who pushed the Nigerian midfielder into second place, and returned home with the Golden Ball? Argentine Lionel Messi—you may have heard of him!
Mikel didn’t consider his second place a disappointment and could live with Messi being better. Argentina ultimately won the final 2-1 against the Flying Eagles in Utrecht, with top scorer Messi also receiving the Golden Boot. The pair have gone on to enjoy fine careers.
Mikel & Messi: They once stood as equals
Immediately after the tournament there was a tug-of-war for the young African, who had moved from Plateau United FC in his home country to Lyn Oslo in Norway at the age of 17. The names of the clubs interested in contracting Mikel prove that the midfielder’s talent was rated highly.
Chelsea, as well as Manchester United, wanted the teenager who had shown that he could organise a match and set a team’s pace. He proved to be a fighter, a runner, technically strong and almost always successful in tackles in his role with the national side. He also initiated numerous promising attacks.
In 2006, both Chelsea and Manchester maintained they had contracted the young player. The Londoners settled the situation by paying transfer sums to both Lyn and Manchester United.
The 18 year old commanded a fee of 23.6 million Euros—a fee that represents the player’s exceptional reputation.
Over the years, he has become very successful at Chelsea, playing alongside a variety of international stars, among them German international Michael Ballack, French legend Claude Makelele and Champions League winner, Deco.
Coach Jose Mourinho converted him into a ‘Six’ with more defensive responsibilities.
The Eternal Question: Just what impact has Mourinho had on Mikel's career?
Mikel became English champion, won the FA Cup, lost the 2008 UEFA Champions League final to Manchester United in Moscow, but was later victorious in a second Champions League final—against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in 2011. He described that triumph as the “best night of my life”.
In 2013 he won the Europa League. Before that he had already extended his contract with the ‘Blues’ until 2017.
Thanks, in part, to his leadership skills, Nigeria won their third African title at the beginning of last year. At the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, which started well for Nigeria with a 6-1 victory over Tahiti, Mikel also appeared keen to study the conditions in Brazil. It is his great dream to compete at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, having missed the 2010 finals in South Africa because of a knee-injury.
“The World Cup is by far the greatest event for every player” Mikel said. Even such a successful professional as the Nigerian retains major ambitions.
John Mikel Obi is not the player we watched 8 years ago, some of his magnificent skills have been lost, while others have been developed and crafted under the tutelage of Mourinho.
In my opinion, we Nigerians needs to wake up, and constructively advise Mikel on the best approach for his future. What a dream it would have been for Mikel to have stood on the podium alongside Messi as the gongs for the World Player of the Year award were handed out earlier this week!
It is a dream, I am sure, that we all share.
It is prescient that as Messi, Mikel’s former peer, was being honoured as one of the world’s finest, Chelsea bought a defensive midfielder, Nemanja Matic, who threatens to usurp the Nigerian in the Blues lineup.
Iheanacho: Lessons to be learnt
Consideration must also go to Kelechi Iheanacho.
Iheanacho, like Mikel, has starred at a FIFA youth tournament. Like Mikel did, he also possesses creative, offensive skills that rival anyone else in his age group. Like the Mikel of 2005, he has the potential to rise to the very top of the sport.
However, like Mikel, he has also agreed to step into the maelstrom of a major European side (in Manchester City)—only time will tell if this Premier League giant can succeed where another failed and finally unlock the precious talent of our nation
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