Former Nigeria captain John Mikel Obi says picking Chelsea over Manchester United in a highly controversial transfer in 2006 was the “best decision” of his career.
The midfielder, who retired last week at the age of 35, was the subject of a bitter dispute between the Red Devils and the Blues in 2005, before signing for the latter the following year.
His decision to move to London, having initially signed for the Manchester side from Norwegian club Lyn Oslo, ultimately proved rewarding.
Mikel became one of the club’s most decorated players, winning the Champions League, Europa League, two Premier Leagues, two League Cups and four FA Cups in an 11-year spell which ended when he left Stamford Bridge in 2017.
“I don’t regret any decision I made because I enjoyed everything I achieved at Chelsea – it’s the best decision I have ever made in my life,” Mikel said.
“I signed a pre-contract for Manchester United when I was 17. If you are a kid and you see Sir Alex Ferguson right in front of you with the contract, of course you will be tempted.”
Having made plenty of previous running, Chelsea were shocked when he signed for their rivals. His agent John Shittu immediately travelled to Oslo to take the player to London, while Lyn swiftly declared him missing.
The news was all over Norwegian TV, with erroneous reports Mikel had been kidnapped.
“I acted as a young kid and as soon as Chelsea heard the news, they came and got me out of Norway,” recalled the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winner.
“That’s when people started saying that I was kidnapped. It wasn’t a great moment for me then. I just wanted to play football because I was so young.”
The 35-year-old started his career as an attacking midfielder and was undoubtedly one of the best in that role at youth level.
He shot to limelight as a traditional number 10 behind the strikers with Nigeria’s Under-17 and Under-20 sides, helping the latter reach the final of the 2005 U20 World Cup.
After starting out from an academy in Jos, Mikel is keen to create a platform for others to live their dreams, too.
He is ready to use his new ‘Back2Base’ project recently launched in Lagos to help young, talented Nigerians.
“It is a platform where you go to the basics, where I started from, which is playing on the red sand, around stones and hard rocks,” he explained.
“We want to go get these raw talents, these kids that we know can become something in life.”
One of Nigeria’s most decorated footballers, Mikel wants to use his contacts in Europe to give exposure to exceptional players discovered at his academy.
“If any of the talents is up to what we are looking for, then we will definitely provide the chance for them to go abroad,” he said.
“I have been out of Nigeria for so many years, [but] I have my connections. We need to first of all get them to establish themselves here, then we will see who is ready to go over there.”