The date was July 2, 2005. The venue was the Galgenwaard Stadium, Holland. The occasion was the Final of the World Youth Championships, now known as the U20 World Cup. And the two men at the centre of attraction were Lionel Messi and Mikel John Obi, both of whom had propelled their sides to that grand finale.
At the end of that competition, Messi received the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe and was hailed as one of the best prospects in the world. Mikel was by no means outdone by the Argentine; he may have received the Silver Shoe but that was only because Nigeria came second. Performance wise, Mikel matched Messi to many extents. For the first time it seemed a real world class star from Nigeria was truly in the making.
The encomiums and accolades young Mikel, aged 18, was receiving were well deserved. Anyone who saw him dictate and master the attacking midfield role he occupied just behind the strikers in the Netherlands would have had good reason to compare him with Messi, and expect him to reach the same heights as the Argentine La Masia magician.
They were right, yet so wrong.
Enter Chelsea and Mourinho. Chelsea under their brash, trophy-plundering manager wrestled a talented 18-year-old attacking midfielder from Manchester United, and everyone looked on with interest to see how this hope of Nigeria would be nurtured to the potential seen in him, under the coach with the fastest rising profile in Europe, Jose Mourinho.
Fast-forward to September 2007 and Mourinho left behind a player with a battered future and little or no world-class prospect.
Now, as much I like Mourinho as a manager, I simply do not enjoy his inability to breed and nurture talents. Raphael Varane is not his handwork, only a lucky player who benefitted from his manager's feud with the player ahead of him in the pecking order.
The story of Mikel would have been much better and a lot more interesting if ‘Special’ Mourinho had not converted the exciting attacking talent into an average defensive midfielder, with only a little success.
In the recently concluded Confederations Cup Mikel shone for Nigeria once again - not shielding the defence as Mourinho forced him to for Chelsea, but dictating play in a far more advanced position. One has to ask: what has Chelsea been missing?
But more importantly, how much of his career has Mikel missed, wasting in a position he was forced into by the man who some blame for Joe Cole’s misfortune at Stamford Bridge.
As unfair as it may be, let's round up by running through a comparison between the two men who started their careers at the same time, on the same platform and under similar spotlights.
Eight years on from Netherlands 2005, Messi is the world's best player four years running, won the Champions League twice, La Liga four times plus numerous records broken along the way and worthy comparisons with the all-time greats.
Mikel in the same time has won Premier League once, Champions League once, Europa League once, an African Nations Cup medal and a string of inconsistent holding midfield displays, coupled with justified criticism.
Now Mourinho has returned at a time when Mikel is beginning to rediscover his old self, and it doesn't spell well for the Nigerian. Today people look at Mikel John Obi in blue colours and they see a shadow of the boy destined for greatness; the man that never was.
And Mourinho played a key part in that downward spiral.
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