Mikel was born in Jos, Nigeria as John Michael Nchekwube Obinna, the son of Michael Obi, who runs an inter-state transport company in Jos, the capital of Plateau State. As his father was a member of the Igbo ethnic group, “Nchekwube” means “hope” and “Obi” is a nickname for the Igbo name “Obinna” (meaning “Father´s heart”).
Mikel started his official football career at the age of 12 when picked as a talented footballer from over 3000 young talents to play in Pepsi Football Academy. A team which at that particular time was well known for going around Nigeria to search for the best there is from all the upcoming future stars, young talents to later move on to rather more professional football. Already then Obi stood out to all the scouts. He got picked to play in a top-flight team Plateau United also known for making stars from players like Celestine Babayaro, Victor Obinna, Chris Obodo and many more which moved on to playing in European teams and representing their country later on in their careers. Later known as John Obi Mikel he was gaining headlines for his country at the FIFA Under-17 World Championships held in Finland. Subsequently he went on trial to South Africa club Ajax Cape Town, before joining Lyn in Norway.
During preparations for the 2003 FIFA Under-17 World Championships, the Nigerian Football Association mistakenly submitted “Michael” as “Mikel” for the tournament in Finland. He decided to keep the new name, saying that it had a special ring to it. On 31 July 2006, he stated that he prefers to be called Mikel John Obi instead of John Obi Mikel, as he had most commonly been called.
In the summer of 2005, Mikel played for Nigeria at the FIFA World Youth Championships held in the Netherlands. He had an excellent tournament until Nigeria reached the final, where they lost 2–1 to Argentina. Obi won the Silver Ball after being voted the tournament’s second best player.
CAREER AND LIFE
On 29 April 2005, a few days after Mikel turned 18, Premier League club Manchester United announced that it had struck a deal with the Norwegian club Lyn Oslo to sign the player. United’s website also claimed that they had done a deal directly with the teenager and that he had signed a contract to join them. Mikel’s agents were bypassed as the club persuaded the youngster to sign a four-year contract without representation. Lyn Oslo allegedly sent a fax to his agents abroad, claiming their services were no longer required by Mikel. Reports said the deal was initially worth £4 million, and would see the player arrive at Old Trafford in January 2006.
Manchester United’s rival Premier League club, Chelsea, later issued a counter-claim suggesting that they already had an agreement with Mikel and his agents, but Lyn Oslo denied this claim. However, subsequent reports indicated that Chelsea claimed to have been involved in arranging the player’s original move to Europe with a view to signing him at a later date. Further substance was added to this claim after it was revealed that the player had impressed Chelsea manager José Mourinho while training with the club’s first-team squad during the summer of 2004.
Mikel expressed his delight at joining United in a hastily arranged press conference, where he was pictured holding up a Manchester United shirt, which bore the squad number 21. Following his signing of the contract to join Manchester United, there were claims from Norway that he had received a number of threatening phone calls from unknown sources. Mikel was assigned a security guard and moved to a safe hotel. However, on 11 May 2005, the midfielder went missing during a Norwegian Cup game against Klemetsrud; he had not been selected for the match but had been watching from the stands. Whilst the player was believed to have left with one of his agents, John Shittu, who had by now flown in to meet Mikel, his disappearance sparked massive media coverage in Norway and also provoked a police enquiry after the Lyn Oslo director Morgan Andersen made claims in the Norwegian media that Mikel had been ‘kidnapped’. These claims were later repeated by Manchester United’s assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, who accused Chelsea of being involved in the alleged ‘kidnapping’.
It subsequently emerged that Mikel had travelled to London with his agent John Shittu, who was working for Jerome Anderson’s SEM group. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson considered travelling to Oslo to visit Mikel, but decided against this after Mikel was reported to have left the country. Staying in a London hotel, and some nine days after disappearing, Mikel stated on Sky Sports News that he had been pressured into signing the contract with United without his agent present, claims furiously rebuffed by both Manchester United and Lyn Oslo. Mikel told the British media that Chelsea were the club he genuinely wanted to sign for. In response to these events, United made an official complaint to FIFA about the behaviour of both Chelsea and the player’s agents, John Shittu and Rune Hauge, already infamous for his role in the George Graham bungs scandal. FIFA dismissed these claims in August 2005 stating there was insufficient evidence to bring a case against Chelsea.
Following the tournament, Mikel failed to return to Lyn Oslo, and the club lodged a complaint with FIFA. On 12 August 2005, FIFA ruled that Mikel should return to Lyn Oslo to see out his contract with the Norwegian club, whilst they would decide at a later date whether the contract he signed with United should be upheld or cancelled. After a delay of over a month, Mikel complied with the FIFA decision and returned to Lyn Oslo in early September 2005 after a three-month absence.
Rather than leaving FIFA to determine the validity of the contract signed with Manchester United, Chelsea intervened by volunteering to settle the transfer saga through negotiation with Lyn Oslo and Manchester United.
On 2 June 2006, Chelsea, Manchester United and Lyn Oslo reached a settlement to resolve the future of the player. Mikel’s registration was to be transferred from Lyn to Chelsea; Manchester United agreed to terminate their option agreement with Mikel. Under the terms of this agreement Chelsea agreed to pay Manchester United £12 million, half paid upon the finalisation of the contract and the other half in June 2007, and Lyn £4 million, half payable immediately and half in June 2007. As a result of this settlement, all claims in this matter were withdrawn. On 19 July 2006, Chelsea were granted a work permit for the midfielder after they completed the £16 million signing in June 2006.
In the aftermath of the transfer, Morgan Andersen, who had a previous conviction for forging official documents, was convicted of fraud and making false accusations and given a one-year suspended jail sentence by an Oslo court. The court also ordered him to pay 20,000 kroner (£1,944) in costs.Chelsea made a High Court claim for £16m against FC Lyn Oslo and Andersen following the conviction, claiming that the previously agreed settlement was not binding as “the transfer was based on a fraudulent misrepresentation, now proven by a court of law”. This claim was subsequently resolved out of court.
On 12 September 2006, Mikel made his first start for Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League against Levski Sofia and took a powerful shot which the goalkeeper failed to save and Didier Drogba pounced on the rebound. Mikel received many positive comments for his performance in the match. However, since being sent off in a match against Reading on 14 October 2006, Mikel was fined on three separate occasions by Chelsea for turning up late to training.
At the time, Chelsea manager José Mourinho was believed to have strong reservations about his lifestyle outside of Stamford Bridge and the club were reportedly considering offloading the player. Mikel was dropped for over a month, during which his father Michael voiced his concerns over his son’s behaviour. After improved punctuality and showings at training sessions, Mikel earned a recall for Chelsea’s Champions League group away game against Werder Bremen on 23 November 2006. Mikel scored his first goal for Chelsea in their 6–1 FA Cup victory over Macclesfield Town on 6 January 2007. He also scored against Nottingham Forest in the following round of the competition. During Chelsea’s triumph in the League Cup Final in 2007, Mikel was sent off in injury time (having come on as a substitute) after clashing with Kolo Touré, the incident was followed by a huge fracas, in which Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor of Arsenal were sent off, Cesc Fàbregas and Frank Lampard were booked and José Mourinho and Arsené Wenger were involved in a kerfuffle on the pitch.
In subsequent games, Mourinho deployed Mikel as a starter in a holding role in key games where he impressed greatly, notably in the Chelsea versus Tottenham FA Cup sixth round replay, the Champions League quarter-final games versus Valencia, the Champions League semi-final games versus Liverpool and also the victorious FA Cup Final against Manchester United. Mikel’s height and great strength, allied to good ball control and an unusually wide range of passing, allows him not only to disrupt opposing attacks, but also to spread the play effectively. Mikel supplanted the French midfielder Claude Makélélé in the lineup following his departure to Paris Saint-Germain
Mikel was sent-off for the third time in his career in September 2007, when Mike Dean dismissed him for a tackle on Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. Chelsea appealed against the red card but the three-match suspension was upheld.
He was also sent off in the semi-final of the League Cup against Everton, for a challenge on Phil Neville. Despite this, he came back strongly to round off what has been a good first two seasons for him at Chelsea.
The summer of 2008 saw veteran midfielder Claude Makélélé transferred to French club PSG, leaving the defensive midfield position vacant. Throughout the 2008/09 season, Mikel saw a great deal of playing time due to an injury to Michael Essien. During this period of increased action, Mikel performed admirably in the role. His ever-improving game was praised by Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, and his importance to the team was underlined when he provided the free kick that Salomon Kalou scored to equalise against Manchester United. He played so well in the 2008–09 season that he was nominated for the club player and young player of the season. On 24 January 2009, Mikel was charged with drunk driving, just hours before an FA Cup game against Ipswich Town– Mikel was not due to play in the game as he was serving a suspension. Although he had all that trouble on 22 July, Mikel signed a new five-year contract with Chelsea.
On 13 February 2010, Mikel provided a long ball for Didier Drogba to latch onto and fire past goalkeeper David Marshall as Chelsea beat Cardiff City 4–1 in the FA Cup Round of 16. Mikel provided another assist for a Drogba goal in a 5–0 win over FA Cup finalists and relegated side Portsmouth on 24 March, as Chelsea cut United’s lead at the top of the table to one point. Mikel played the full ninety minutes in Chelsea’s 7–1 smashing of Aston Villa three days later as Chelsea kept pace in the title race with Manchester United. In their next Premier League game against United, Mikel played excellent as a marshall in midfield as Chelsea climbed above United in the table with a 2–1 win at Old Trafford, thanks to goals from Joe Cole and Drogba.
Under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, Mikel continued to perform with efficiency in his defensive midfield role as he notched up 32 appearances for the Blues and in May 2010 received Premier League and FA Cup winner’s medals as part of Chelsea’s first ever league-cup double winning team.
Mikel and Chelsea started the new Premier League campaign where they left of the 2009–10 season, playing strong defense and adding deadly finishing. Mikel played the full 90 and helped keep three clean-sheets in the first three games as Chelsea eased past West Brom 6–0 on 14 August, crushed Wigan Athletic 6–0 at the DW Stadium seven days later and edged past Stoke 2–0 on 28 August.
Mikel was the preferred option in defensive midfield as teammate Michael Essien spent most of the season on the sideline with knee injuries. The injury to the versatile Essien forced the club to play new signing Ramires more often in the second half of the season. Mikel featured in 28 Premier League campaigns for Chelsea as the London side finished in second place, nine points behind champions Manchester United. Following the disappointment of not winning a title, Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti was sacked by the club.
Before the start of their league campaign, Mikel’s father was abducted in his native Nigeria on 10 August; despite this, Mikel started in the club’s opening fixture against Stoke City at the Britannia. Mikel came close to claiming his first Premier League goal for Chelsea in an inspired game as the sides played out a 0–0 draw in new coach Andre Villas-Boas’s first game in charge.
Due to Michael Essien’s long term knee injury, Mikel found more playing time, but around Christmas time he lost his place to Chelsea’s new signing Oriol Romeu. Following a run of disappointing fixtures including a catastrophic 3–1 loss to Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg and a 1–0 defeat to West Brom, Villas-Boas was sacked by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. In both of these matches Mikel was an unused substitute for The Blues. Following the appointment of former Chelsea midfielder Roberto di Matteo, Mikel appeared in 16 of the club’s last 20 games and started in 14 of them, and began to play some of his best football for the club.
Mikel played the full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s 2–1 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup final on 5 May 2012, picking up a yellow card in the 36th minute. The Premier League campaign saw Mikel appear in 22 league fixtures, starting 15 of them, as well as playing in eight fixtures leading up to the team’s appearance in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
In the final in Munich on 19 May, Mikel played the full 120 minutes as the sides played out a 1–1 draw. Chelsea played a tough defensive battle and Mikel was hailed by Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp as playing an excellent game putting in “a performance that I didn’t think he had in him; he was putting out fires everywhere,” as Chelsea claimed a 4–3 victory in the penalty shootout. Following his performance Mikel told reporters that it was “best night of our lives.” Mikel’s strong performances in the final stages of the season and his impressive display in Munich helped Chelsea secure Champions League football next season despite finishing in sixth place, knocking London rivals Tottenham Hotspur into the Europa League.
Mikel started all of Chelsea’s first five games of the new Premier League season, and also played in the Community Shield against Manchester City and Super Cup against Atlético Madrid. In November, Mikel was named on the shortlist for the African Footballer of the Year along with former Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba.
Mikel was charged with misconduct by the Football Association on 22 November 2012. Mikel was given a three-match ban and fined £60,000 by the Football Association for threatening referee Mark Clattenburg during a 3–2 defeat to Manchester United.
On 5 December 2012, Mikel signed a contract extension with Chelsea, keeping him at the club until 2017.
On 21 September 2013, Mikel scored his first Premier League goal in a 2–0 win against Fulham. He scored his second goal of the season in Chelse’a third round tie with Derby on 5 January 2014, heading in the opening goal in an eventual 2-0 victory. Mikel made his 200th Premier League appearance for Chelsea on 3 February, coming on as a late substitute in a 1-0 away victory at Manchester City.
On 30 August 2014, Mikel, who substituted Willian on the 75 minute mark, set up Costa’s second goal after picking up Bešić’s backheel pass. Chelsea went on to win 6-3 against Everton at Goodison Park. Mikel scored a rare goal against Sporting Lisbon on 10 December 2014 in a 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in the UEFA Champions League.
Mikel represented the Nigeria under-20 team at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship and won the Silver Ball for the second-best player at the tournament (behind Lionel Messi) as the Africans finished runner-up to Argentina.
He made his debut for the Nigeria senior team on 17 August 2005, when he came on as a second-half substitute in a 1–0 friendly win over Libya. He did not play for the national team again prior to being named in the squad for the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations. In Nigeria’s first group game, which was against Ghana, Mikel was an unused substitute. However, he was introduced into the second game, against Zimbabwe, early in the second half. Within ten minutes of coming on, he had supplied both the corner that resulted in Christian Obodo heading the game’s opening goal, and scored Nigeria’s second goal. He made his first international start in Nigeria’s final group game, a 2–1 victory over Senegal.
In 2007, Mikel was suspended from all Nigerian national teams after manager Berti Vogts dropped Mikel from the team’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Niger, for failing to attend their previous match against Uganda. Mikel cited an injury, but because he did not attend an independent check by Nigerian officials, he was dropped. This, and his refusal to play for the Nigerian under-23 side resulted in his suspension by the Nigerian Football Association. After apologising, he was called up to the national squad for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana. At the tournament, he scored one goal and registered one assist in a match against Benin, to help Nigeria qualify for the quarter-finals against hosts Ghana, where they lost 2–1 to their West African rivals.
Mikel had been called up for the Under-23 side in preparation of the team’s last Olympic qualifier on 26 March 2008, needing a win to qualify. His failure to show up for any of the qualifiers again setting off some controversy with the U-23 team coach Samson Siasia, who dropped him from the Olympic squad amidst significant furor from the media.
On 5 June 2010, Mikel was ruled out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa due to injury. He had been struggling to recover from a knee problem after undergoing surgery in May, though there were also reports that an ankle injury was to blame for Mikel’s withdrawal.
At the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Mikel was a key player for Nigeria as they went on to win their fifth continental title. He was named by CAF in the team of the tournament alongside teammates Vincent Enyeama, Efe Ambrose, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike.
Mikel made his FIFA World Cup debut during the 2014 tournament in Brazil, earning a man of the match award in the Super Eagles’ opening game against Iran and helping the team to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1998.
On 12 August 2011, Mikel’s father, Michael Obi, was the victim of a suspected kidnapping in Nigeria. Mikel was informed before Chelsea’s match against Stoke City two days later but opted to play despite his concerns for his father’s wellbeing. On 15 August 2011 Mikel made an impassioned plea for his father’s safe return. He told Sky Sports News: “I’ve always tried to help the country, this is the time for the country to help me, whoever knows where my dad is should please contact me.” Michael Obi was found alive on 22 August 2011, in the Nigerian city of Kano. His abductors were reported to be in police custody.