Mikel arrived at Chelsea in 2006 with a reputation as being a tough-tackling midfielder that could fill the void left by Claude Makelele, but soon found himself at the centre of attention for the wrong reasons.
The Nigerian international picked up four red cards and 18 yellows in his first two seasons in England, including being sent off in Chelsea’s League Cup final triumph against Arsenal in 2007.
Mikel appears to have calmed down in recent seasons and has not seen red since January 2008, and the 25-year-old believes he has matured drastically since he arrived at Stamford Bridge.
"When you play in the role I play and after the first two years you have got four red cards, you can't keep going like that," he told Chelsea's official magazine.
"You have to sit and think and look at what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right.
"So, I looked at that aspect of my game and I saw that I really needed to watch the tackles that I went into. Sometimes, it's not just about going in for tackles, it's about knowing how to win the ball without having to go in for those challenges, which is something I've learned.
"Now, I tend to be closer to the ball so I can win it much more easily, to pressurise instead of making those silly tackles I used to make when I first came. The boys now have banter with me sometimes, saying, "Remember four years ago when you used to kick us all the time in training"."
Mikel has been at the heart of Chelsea’s resurgence under Roberto di Matteo as they go in search of adding the Champions League to their FA Cup success of last weekend, and the midfielder believes his game has benefitted greatly from the tactical approach of the Italian.
"Now we play with two (defensive midfielders), where one tends to stay a little bit more and the other has a little bit more licence to go. So, it's pretty standard - it's not 4-4-2, but it's similar in some ways and it's been working well for us," he explained.
"Growing up, 4-4-2 was the standard for me. Then I came into the team at Chelsea and switched to a holding role. If I'm the only deep midfielder, it means I tend to play with more discipline.
"I need to be the one to keep the shape of the team, to be the one man holding, and every team needs that.
"It depends on what the manager wants to do and what he gives you permission to do. I've been here six years and in that time I have had managers who said, 'Don't even try it!'."
'But Robbie has encouraged it, and why not? I try to help the team and I try to show what I can do when I have the ball as well. I try to create and make the team play, to be a little bit more offensive, not only disciplined and defensive.'
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