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Tribute to John Obi Mikel, Nigeria's greatest midfielder of all time

September 27th 2022, 8:20:23 pm

As John Obi Mikel calls time on his playing career, we take a look back at the legendary career of a true Nigerian football great.

Mikel Obi retires from football, calling time on his legendary career

In the immortal words of Marvel supervillain, Thanos; “dread it, run from it…destiny arrives all the same,” a sentence that captures the feelings surrounding John Obi Mikel’s retirement.

The announcement via his official Instagram page on Tuesday, September 27, 2022, did not exactly come as a surprise as Mikel hadn’t played active football in nearly a year but it was hard-hitting all the same.

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A player whose career spanned two decades, achieving a level of longevity and success that is rare among Nigerian footballers, Mikel is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder Nigeria has produced and up there with the greatest of any position to don the green and white.

As the 35-year-old officially hangs his boot, one can only clap in admiration of his greatness and reminisce on his many accomplishments.

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Mikel last played professional football on October 20, 2021 for Kuwait SC in a 2-0 defeat to Al-Muharraq, after which his contract was terminated 15 days later.

But the difference between the tired man that played 45 minutes in that game and the exciting teenager who dazzled at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Finland could not be more apparent.

Mikel at his best was a model of consistency and a symbol of elegance which is an impressive description for a player whose prime years spanned a full decade.

Unfortunately, his indisputable skillset on the world stage were more appreciated in retrospect rather than in real-time but no sane person can contest his quality.

Mikel played 589 senior career games for club and country.

A modern defensive midfielder whose prime was spent in what could best be described as pre-historic times for the deep-lying playmaker position; give this man his flowers because he certainly didn’t get them when he should have.

Mikel Obi’s national team career peaked in 2013 as he was instrumental in Nigerian winning the Africa Cup of Nations.

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And while that was his only official Super Eagles trophy, the midfield general helped claim three bronze medals at the 2006, 2010 and 2019 AFCONs.

Mikel also led Nigeria to a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic games in what was arguably his finest moment in Nigerian sports both on and off the pitch.

The then 29-year-old assumed a mentorship role in a squad that punched well above its weight both in terms of on-pitch qualities and the peculiar situations surrounding the Dream Team at that particular tournament.

It was a tournament dominated by financial troubles for the Nigerian contingent but Mikel Obi stepped up financially and physically with his superb performances to be there for the Samson Siasia-led team in a way that is unusual for active football players.

As earlier stated, John Obi Mikel enjoyed a trophy-laden career and a rundown of his achievements would make for a bulky read.

He retires with 11 trophies to his name in what was truly a gold-plated career for club and country.

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Mikel won two Premier League titles with Chelsea in the 2009/10 and 2014/15 seasons in which he played 25 and 18 games respectively to contribute to the silverware.

He also played a key part in three FA Cup wins for Chelsea in 2006/07, 2008/09 and 2011/12, with 16 appearances across the cup-winning campaigns.

The Nigerian midfielder also has one EFL Cup and FA Community Shield each on his CV which he won with Chelsea in 2006/07 and 2009 respectively.

However, it was the European success Mikel enjoyed with Chelsea that proved the highlight of his club career as he played nine out of the 13 games en route to winning the UEFA Champions League in the 2011/12 season, including a stellar display in the final against Bayern in Munich.

The following season, Mikel tasted success in Europe again, winning the Europa League in 2012/13.

The last trophy of his club career was in 2019/20, winning the Turkish Cup with Trabzonspor as a 33-year-old.

For whatever reason, the biggest criticism of Mikel’s career was that he underachieved which is strange for someone with all his achievements, especially individually.

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Mikel first announced himself to the world in 2005 when he won the Silver Ball at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, second only to a random bloke called Lionel Messi.

That same year, Mikel won the CAF Promising Player of the Year award as well as making it into the CAF Team of the Year as an 18-year-old.

Mikel won the Chelsea Young Player of the Year award twice in 2007 and 2008 at the end of his first two seasons at the club.

But his best individual year was arguably in 2013 when he was named in the CAF Team of the Year again, AFCON Team of the Tournament and also finished second for CAF Player of the Year.

There is no better way to eulogise Mikel Obi than simply listing out his achievements in the past two decades. He was a genuinely gifted football player, a model professional whose talent was just as unique as his name and one whom the future generation would be eager to emulate.

As he trades the pitch for the football hall of fame, all that can be said is, enjoy retirement, John Obi Mikel, you have earned it.

Tunde Young
Tunde is an experienced sports writer/journalist dedicated to promoting Nigerian excellence in sports

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