Feature

Here's to you, John Obi Mikel

Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris wrote "I Will Survive" in 1978, but the hit made famous by Gloria Gaynor could easily have been written for Chelsea's true survivor, renaissance man John Obi Mikel.

John Obi Mikel

Source: Getty Images

To hear the Blues' faithful serenading their number 12 at Selhurst Park last weekend was a strange thing.

Often derided and much maligned, Mikel has proven to be a safe pair of hands under Guus Hiddink, holding the midfield with grace and poise, allowing Chelsea's creative sparks to function.

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Hiddink, indeed, is a fan, and as one respected football writer remarked, Mikel was probably doing cartwheels when he heard "Lucky Guus" was coming back to the Bridge.



Mikel was a stalwart under Hiddink in 2009, and his performance in the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final win was nothing short of heroic.

And yet, midway through his tenth season at the Bridge, Mikel has made just shy of 230 Premier League appearances, and only 168 starts.

By sheer longevity, he is only the fourth foreigner to reach the 300 appearance (all competitions) mark for Chelsea - the others are bona fide club legends Petr Cech, Didier Drogba and Gianfranco Zola.

But Mikel's recent struggles are a long way from his halcyon days of nearly a decade ago, when he hastened the departure of the great Claude Makelele with some stirring performances under Jose Mourinho.

Luiz Felipe Scolari (and then Hiddink) and Carlo Ancelotti both took a liking to the languid Nigerian, especially in the absence of the perenially-injured Michael Essien.

Andre Villas-Boas preferred Oriol Romeu for much of his ill-fated spell as Chelsea manager, but Mikel played 16 of the last 20 games of the season under Roberto Di Matteo, culminating with that night in Munich.

In the three and a half seasons since, Mikel has made only 40 Premier League starts, two and a half of those seasons under the man who transformed him into Makelele version 2, Mourinho.

Don't forget that Mikel was (and is at international level) a creative spark himself, a number 10 with an eye for a pass.

There's something to be admired in a player such as Mikel - technically gifted, a hard worker, and a strong team man in a period of sustained success.

Mikel has two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Community Shield, a UEFA Champions League and a UEFA Europa League to his name.

It is a remarkable roll call for a player linked with a move away from the club in each transfer window.

There are many tales of squad players who have played an important role in successful clubs - but not many hang around long enough to be due a testimonial season.

Now Hiddink is back and he recently described Mikel, still only 28, as the "ideal" player to bring balance to a Chelsea ship which was listing dangerously at the end of 2015.

Maybe now, Chelsea fans who haven't rated him, will realise his importance and his ability because Mikel, Chelsea's great survivor, is the key to Chelsea's 2016 revival.

He should be saluted, even if only for being there long enough to be part of it. 


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3 min read
Published 9 January 2016 at 2:24pm
By Matthew Connellan