Ever since the strange transfer saga of 2006, when John Obi Mikel arrived at Chelsea after they agreed to pay his former club Lyn Oslo £4m, plus an additional £12m to Manchester United, who he had never played for, Mikel has been a polarising figure.
His frustrating habit of apparently coasting through matches without making many key contributions, not to mention his appalling goalscoring record, has left many Chelsea fans wondering what all the fuss was about seven summers ago.
Mikel was never really the defensive midfield replacement for Claude Makelele, and his attacking abilities were always overshadowed by the likes of Frank Lampard, often leaving Mikel as a spare part in the Chelsea midfield.
The most frustrating aspect of Mikel’s Chelsea career would be that he does appear to possess the ability to be a quality midfielder. He will occasionally produce a defence-splitting assist, and has a turn of skill that allows him to find his way out of trouble when surrounded by opposition players.
Even his finishing was on show when he scored during the recent Confederations Cup defeat to Uruguay for Nigeria, although Chelsea fans will be more accustomed to his shots finding the top tier rather than the top corner.
It is no surprise that Mikel comes across as a player with more drive and purpose when he is captaining Nigeria and is more central to their play. In that situation, not only is he played in a more advanced role than at Chelsea, but also he must shoulder the responsibility to lead his team by example and drive them forward.
When he knows that his performance has a greater bearing on his team’s performance as a whole he seems to raise his game and can be found making contributions all over the pitch.
At Chelsea, when he is more often than not surrounded by world class players, he instead seems to shrink into himself more and let the game pass him by too often. Whether this is because he is intimidated by his teammates’ ability or because he knows he does not have to do as much is not clear, although it seems unlikely that he would be intimidated playing for Chelsea after seven seasons.
Mikel’s lack of development could also be a fault on the part of Chelsea who have always seen him as a holding midfielder, and perhaps this rigid position for him contributes to his lack of expansive play.
These are similar accusations that were often levelled at Michael Ballack during his time at Chelsea. After being such a talisman for Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Germany, he was not the same dominant figure in a Chelsea midfield with Michael Essien and Frank Lampard at the height of their powers. He also would produce moments of quality but rarely seemed to be dictating play in the way he had previously proven he could.
Some players simply need to be the man in charge psychologically to play to the best of their ability. Therefore perhaps Mikel, the subject of transfer speculation regarding Galatasaray this summer, would benefit from moving to a team where he was a key player in order for him to reach his full potential. However, a team like Galatasaray that has its own international stars may not be the right destination.
Unless Chelsea plan to give Mikel more responsibility within the team to try to jolt him into more regular action, it would make sense for them to accept a decent sized bid from abroad. Otherwise Mikel may always be remembered as a player who promised much but delivered relatively little.
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