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John Obi Mikel bows out from football as one of Chelsea’s greatest ever unsung heroes

While he might not deserve a statue outside of Stamford Bridge, it’s hard to find a hero more unknown in recent Chelsea history than John Obi Mikel.

Mikel, who made 372 appearances in 11 years with the Blues, announced his retirement from football at the age of 35 after a concluding spell in the Kuwaiti Premier League.

The former Nigeria midfielder walked away from the match with a prestigious list of honors in the bag for both club and country, although most of them came on these shores with Chelsea.

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Chelsea cult hero John Obi Mikel called a time in his football career at the age of 35

Mikel (second from left) helped the Blues win a number of major trophies from 2006 to 17

Mikel (second from left) helped the Blues win a number of major trophies from 2006 to 17

He won all the major titles he was winning on the bridge, lifting the Premier League twice, the FA Cup three times, as well as the League Cup, the European League and the Champions League.

Fans still talk about Mikel’s outstanding performance in the 2012 Champions League final – which helped the Blues oust Bayern Munich in their own backyard to become European champions for the first time – to this day.

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Incredibly, his story in English football would have been very different had he not turned to a move to Manchester United to join their Premier League rivals in 2006.

Before that transfer drama, Mikel Plateau left Nigeria’s United to sign his first professional club, Norway’s Len Futbol, ​​at the age of 16 after shining in the FIFA U-17 World Championship in 2003.

It was in Norway where the Joss-born star first caught the attention of Man United.

The Red Devils thought they had a gem after striking a deal with Lynn to bring him to England in January 2006, and held a press conference to reveal him as a United player shortly before, with Mikel even wearing his home shirt. In the end it proved premature.

Because Chelsea, also eager to get their hands on the youngster, quickly snuck up the United deal out of nowhere, eventually negotiating a settlement with their English teammates and Lynn to sign Mikel after a crazy saga that saw the Blues falsely accused of kidnapping him.

They finally won the race for his signature in June 2006, and from there, the rest became history.

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The Nigerian star refused to move to Manchester United when he signed for Chelsea in 2006

The Nigerian star refused to move to Manchester United when he signed for Chelsea in 2006

Sir Alex Ferguson and his cohorts thought they had signed Mikel from Norway's Lane Football

Sir Alex Ferguson and his cohorts thought they had signed Mikel from Norway’s Lane Football

But he instead headed to Stamford Bridge after the Blues reached a settlement with United

But he instead headed to Stamford Bridge after the Blues reached a settlement with United

After making his debut in September of that year, Mikel became a regular first-team player for Chelsea, making 42 appearances in his first season with the club and winning two titles – the FA Cup and the League Cup – in the process.

His quiet persistence at the heart of midfield, combined with an impressive injury record, is best illustrated by his appearance numbers over the six years following Mourinho’s departure in 2007; Under seven different coaches, Mikel ran out no fewer than 35 times each season until the return of Special One.

The same cannot be said of his goal tally, even though he originally started his career as No. 10. After scoring twice in his first season with Chelsea, Mikel failed to score again until Mourinho’s second spell in 2013-14.

However, the lack of goals only added to his cult hero status in SW6 and, moreover, he was not to blame given that Mourinho was responsible for turning him from No. 10 – where he went on to work for Nigeria – into a defensive one. Midfielder.

The rest was Chelsea history, with Mikel becoming a consistent first-team regular for years

The rest was Chelsea history, with Mikel becoming a consistent first-team regular for years

Jose Mourinho was responsible for transforming him from No. 10 into a defensive midfielder

Jose Mourinho was responsible for transforming him from No. 10 into a defensive midfielder

Speaking earlier this year, Mikel told Pulse Sports: “Obviously I was a creative midfielder, I was very creative. I was so talented with the ball, I never lost the ball, which is why I played the number 10. I was this guy who made it all happen.

Then to go to Chelsea, and obviously with these big-name players, the big players, you have to give something.

And then, he [Mourinho] He looked at her and said, “I can’t really make you play it [No 10] Because we have the likes of Joe Cole playing there. We have huge names playing there, and you have to change something,” and we talked about it.

I thought it was a positive conversation, and then he said, “I see you playing there [deeper in midfield]. “

It may have hurt his attacking production, but in hindsight, Mikel’s positional switch under Mourinho eventually proved to be a major blow – and helped Chelsea write a new chapter in their decorated history.

As a defensive midfielder, his composure on the ball and his natural strength have allowed him to thrive alongside some of the star names in the midfield, such as Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien.

He has run out 25 times as the club became Premier League champions in 2009-10, their first title with Chelsea, a season that also saw them win the FA Cup for a second time.

Mikel is still 10th for Nigeria, but Chelsea had far too many star players at the time.

Mikel is still 10th for Nigeria, but Chelsea had far too many star players at the time.

However, when all is said and done, Mikel will be remembered by blues supporters for one historic achievement. It came in Munich.

After the dismissal of André Villas-Bois, interim president Roberto Di Matteo reintroduced a number of key men who had been ostracized under the previous regime, including Mikel.

The latter was one of the many horses who helped lead Chelsea to unexpected victories in the Champions League final that season; Which included a three-goal comeback against Napoli, a heroic recovery with 10 players away from Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, ​​and most importantly, a dramatic victory over Bayern Munich in their own backyard.

They say the great players rose to the big occasions, and on May 19, 2012, at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Mikel gave an all-time performance as Di Matteo’s men stunned Bayern to win the big title on penalties.

Didier Drogba’s last header and the tournament-winning penalty kick are the images that most people think of when they think of that final.

But during the 120 minutes of excitement, Mikel was comfortably Chelsea’s best player that night. In fact, he was probably even the best player on the field.

His decisive moment came in the Chelsea shirt in the 2012 Champions League final in Munich

His decisive moment came in the Chelsea shirt in the 2012 Champions League final in Munich

Mikel's phenomenal display in midfield helped Roberto Di Matteo's men create a big upset

Mikel’s phenomenal display in midfield helped Roberto Di Matteo’s men create a big upset

The elegant and elegant midfield announcer did not get tired of breaking Bayern’s offensive efforts into the night, providing a much-needed shield against barely fit Gary Cahill and David Luiz.

In a clip that went viral on social media last year, Mikel’s superb defensive feat and Hariri’s midfield play that evening was evident to all. Quite simply, he was performing from his skin.

Without that imposing display, Bayern might have been out of sight by the time Drogba was headbutting the equalizer in death. His legendary penalty may not have crowned Chelsea European champions for the first time.

“I’ve had a lot of good games, but given what’s at stake, this is my best game for Chelsea,” he told The Athletic last year. We were playing at their home in their court. pressure increased.

I did pretty much everything that day, defensively and moving on. It’s a game I’m proud of. What makes it even more special is that I saved my best performance in Chelsea’s biggest game ever. Not bad, eh?

After that defining moment for his career, Mikel’s remaining time at Chelsea did not reach the same levels.

Despite making 38 appearances in all competitions, he was an unused substitute in their 2013 UEFA Europa League Final win over Benfica. Mourinho then returned that summer, although Mikel’s playing time slowly shrunk over the next two years.

He never reached the same heights again, but Mikel left with icon status solidifying

He never reached the same heights again, but Mikel left with icon status solidifying

In the second season in which Special One won the title, he appeared only 18 times.

Another 33 games came in his final season with Chelsea, when the troubled Blues finished 10th in the Premier League after Guus Hiddink arrived on Mourinho’s sinking ship.

He didn’t officially leave the bridge until January 2017, but Mikel’s playing days with Chelsea ended at the unfortunate end of the 2015-16 season, meaning he eventually headed to China far from the back door.

Regardless, Mikel had already carved out a special place in the hearts of the Blues years before his low-key exit. His masterful performance in Munich will long be remembered.

In the most successful period in Chelsea’s 117-year history, John Obi Mikel was the glue that held it all together.

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