First, it was the champions of Turkey, Besiktas, then Italian giants AC Milan, then Olympique Marseille of France and lastly Spanish La Liga side Valencia. The rumours linking Super Eagles captain cum former Chelsea midfielder of more than a decade, John Mikel Obi, with a move away from Stamford Bridge to the aforementioned clubsides would not stop at the time. Although, there were also whispers of a move to the Chinese Super League in the mix, not many saw it materializing including us. The consensus was that Mikel is still quite young to move to the Far East and has got a couple of years left in him to continue showcasing his talent and abilities to the world while in the top-flight European soccer scene.
However, this was not to be as in the morning of January 6, news that the 29-year-old had signed for an ‘average’ Chinese Super League clubside Tianjin TEDA went viral. A lot of us were in utter disbelief but it was only few hours later when he released an emotional goodbye letter to what he termed his ‘Chelsea family’ that it dawned on us it was indeed true.
Citizens including those in the Diaspora reacted – mixed reactions though! They have since come to terms with the fact that their captain now plies his trade in far away China and will do so for the next three years at least. Not a few mocked Mikel with the statement that he is only ‘being an Ibo man’ that he is, for the lure of money. In this society of ours, there is the widespread belief that the Ibos love money a lot and do not joke with it, and, therefore, jump at the slightest opportunity of making it with so much shrewdness and ingeniousness.
Mikel might have been buoyed by the record transfer of his former Chelsea team-mate, Oscar, to China few weeks earlier than his. Suffice it to say that Oscar’s move is far more disappointing considering that he is only 25, not yet in his peak and had long been courted by top European clubsides, most notably, Juventus. He can safely bid goodbye to the already over-bloated, star-studded Brazillian national team, trust me.
Mikel ‘ostensibly’ claimed that he made the move for the sake of the national team so as to stay fit and competitive ahead of the upcoming World Cup and AFCON qualifiers. Hmmn! An individual known before now and in fact until recently, to be fond of ‘raising his shoulders’ to his country’s face whenever he is invited for national assignments and even selecting matches to honour and not to honour. The likes of Olympique Marseille, AC Milan, Valencia and Besiktas were willing and ready to make him the fulcrum of their team given his years of experience playing for Chelsea domestically and in Europe, in other words, regular, competitive action at the highest level guaranteed for him. It is understood that he refused them all because they could not meet up his wages especially Valencia. So, who is fooling who? He should tell that ‘patriotism story’ to the wind abegii!
Mikel’s case bothers us because he is our national team captain and we love him. Certain star footballers who know and appreciate the benefits of remaining in the top-flight European scene, have, in recent weeks, spoken against a transfer to the Far East to play for megabucks rather than passion for the game and also highlighted the importance of remaining in Europe – Chelsea’s goalie Thibaut Courtois and Man City’s midfielder Yaya Toure!
Toure, while speaking, revealed that he got an offer of GBP520k per week wage from a Chinese club during his crisis period with his gaffer, Pep Guardiola. He swiftly turned it down. Can you beat that? This is a man who has won everything there is to win in football – except the FIFA World Cup – with top clubs like Barcelona, Man City and national team, Cote d’Ivoire (before he quit international football). A four-time African Footballer of the Year award winner.
Truth be said here, with all the pride Mikel’s agent, Mr John Shittu, has got, it’s quite a shame that a lowly clubside like Tianjin TEDA was all his client could settle for and a meagre wage of GBP140k per week when compared to the lucrative deals Mikel’s contemporaries such as Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Axel Witsel among others got in this period and much earlier. For instance, Tevez is reportedly the highest paid footballer alive on earth today. He earns GBP615k per week at Shanghai Shenhua. Oscar who left Chelsea shortly before Mikel did, earns a reported GBP400k per week where he is. Can you see the gap? Mikel’s appears to be ‘peanut’. Fact is as a top, top player in Europe with such experience he’s got, a move to China should have commanded stuff far more than his current 140k.
Mikel, to many including me, has never been an ambitious player. If he was, he would have quit Chelsea a long time ago to be honest. We hope he is now aware that his sojourn to China automatically shuts the door to (him) winning a prestigious continental or global individual award in the forseeable future!!!
Am unhappy about this regardless of what anyone thinks or says. Captain Mikel should have remained in mainstream Europe. The US Major League Soccer (MLS) might even have been manageable though not still good enough for him. In Mikel, I still see at least two World Cups and a few AFCON attendances.
I guess the only good side to his China move is the fact that, apart from being appointed the captain of Tianjin TEDA, he is now being played in an attacking role, one which announced him to the world before and during the year 2005. Back then, he was clearly the best attacking midfielder/playmaker – among his set/peers – in the world such that EPL giants Chelsea and Man Utd had a protracted war over his signature, and, which had to be resolved in FIFA’s court in Geneva, Switzerland. An out-of-court settlement was reached eventually, with Chelsea paying off (GBP16m) Man Utd and Lyn Oslo of Norway where Mikel did cut his teeth professionally abroad.
Maybe, just maybe we might see the re-enactment of the ‘Mikel of 2005’ that dazzled the world with his skills and vision from the midfield in FIFA u-20 World Cup in The Netherlands, and was only pipped to the MVP award by Lionel Messi simply because Argentina defeated Nigeria in the final.
Time will definitely tell.