Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter As 20-Year Career Ends

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter As 20-Year Career Ends

Former Super Eagles captain Mikel Obi on Tuesday announced his retirement from football after 20 years. Media writes on what the future lies ahead for the former Chelsea midfielder after an outstanding career

After a stellar career where he won every major trophy available at club level and captained his country, Mikel Obi has retired from active football.

Mikel took to his Instagram page to announce his decision to hang up his boots with a photo of his 20-year career’s biggest highlights and a lengthy statement.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

The legendary midfielder’s message read, “There is a saying that ‘all good things must come to an end,’ and for my professional football career, that day is today (Tuesday).

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter
Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

“I look back at the past 20 years of my career, and I must say that I am very satisfied with all that I was able to achieve and more importantly the human it has helped shape.

“All of this would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my family, managers, clubs, coaches, teammates and most importantly my ever-loyal fans.

“You supported me through my highs and lows, even on days that I did not live up to your expectations. I say a big thank you.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

“I will also like to encourage everyone who I may have inspired one way or the other in the course of my career to never give up on their dreams, for every time you think about quitting, remind yourself why you started.

“This is not goodbye, it’s the start of another journey, another chapter of my life. I look forward to what the future holds and I hope you will walk with me. Thank you.”

The 35-year-old was best known for his exploits at Chelsea, where he won nine titles in 11 years at Stamford Bridge.

Mikel also enjoyed immense success on the international stage, earning 89 caps for Nigeria scoring six goals as well as winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

The breakthrough
Mikel’s career started on a dusty football pitch in the Jos Metropolis Township Primary School, where he was first spotted. He was picked from a pool of over 3,000 young boys to play for the prestigious Pepsi Football Academy, where he stood out, and was picked to play for Nigerian Professional Football League club, Plateau United.

In August 2003, the skinny teenager stepped onto the pitch for the first time as a youth international player for Nigeria against Costa Rica in their opening 1-1 stalemate at the U-17 World Cup in Finland.

But it was in the Golden Eaglets second game at the tournament that Mikel shone, when he led the team from a goal down to beat Australia 2-1.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Unfortunately, they lost the last group game to Argentina by a lone goal and failed to qualify for the next round, following a toss of coin. At that time, Manchester United attempted to sign the talented player on a scholarship agreement but they were rebuffed.

At the U-20 World Cup in 2005, Mikel was the tournament’s breakout star alongside Lionel Messi. He was instrumental to Nigeria’s run to the final, with an all-encompassing display in midfield against the likes of Holland, Morocco, Brazil and Argentina.

In the final, Argentina needed two penalties from Messi in regulation to edge Nigeria to the title, but while Messi took home the Golden Ball, Mikel won the Silver Ball on a rather disappointing night at the Galgenwaard Stadium.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

A career of highs and lows
While Messi, his contemporary at U-20, would go on to rule the football world, winning six Balon d’Or awards, a lot of pundits feel Mikel didn’t quite fulfil the promise he showed at youth football level despite his modest achievements at senior level. After a fine outing at the 2005 U-20 World Cup, Mikel suddenly found himself out of action at club level for close to a year, following a transfer saga between English giants Chelsea and Manchester United.

United announced that they had struck a deal with Lyn Oslo, then Mikel’s club, to sign the player, claiming that they had done a deal directly with the teenager and that he had signed a contract to join them. But rivals Chelsea later issued a counter-claim suggesting that they already had an agreement with Mikel and his agents, but Lyn denied this claim.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Mikel expressed delight at joining United in a reportedly hastily arranged press conference, where he was pictured holding up a Manchester United shirt bearing the squad number 21. Following his signing of the contract to join United, there were claims from Norway that he had received a number of threatening phone calls from unknown sources. Mikel was thus assigned a security guard and moved to a safe hotel.

The youngster would eventually join Chelsea – instead of Manchester United in 2006 – a move that cost the Blues £16m more than they should have spent, as the Nigerian had actually agreed to join United, before the deal was hijacked.

He arrived at Stamford Bridge when Frank Lampard was at the peak of his game and Michael Ballack joined from Bayern Munich on a free transfer in the same window. It was, thus, evident there was no place for the talented but inexperienced youngster, at least not in his preferred attacking midfield role.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

But Chelsea weren’t about to leave a player they fought tooth and nail to acquire rotting on the bench, and with Claude Makelele getting on, manager Jose Mourinho converted Mikel into a defensive midfielder – a move that initially boomeranged.

A Series of red cards and suspensions meant that the Nigerian was always in and out of the team at the start of his Blues career.

Mikel was shown a straight red card by referee Mike Dean after a challenge on United left-back Patrice Evra during Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford in 2007. He was also sent off in a League Cup final against Arsenal after a scuffle with Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor.

He went on to win two Premier League titles, four FA Cup trophies, the 2007 League Cup, 2012 Champions League and the 2013 Europa League.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Mikel’s trophy-laden career at Chelsea lasted 11 years before he moved to Chinese club Tianjon TEDA for free in 2017. He returned to England for short stint at Championship side Middlesbrough in 2019, before joining Turkish champions Trabzonspor. But Mikel returned to England again to join Stoke City (2020/2021), after a spat with Trabzonspor officials after he said he did not feel comfortable with topflight games in the country following the coronavirus pandemic. He last played for Kuwait SC in 2021.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

By the end of the 2012 European season, Mikel had won everything there was to win at club level. Premier League titles, FA Cups and then, in Munich, a much-coveted UEFA Champions League crown, becoming only the third Nigerian footballer ever to claim that honour. Yet, there was something missing – the love and adoration of his nation.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

At the 2006 AFCON in Egypt, Mikel, just 18, caught the eye with his passing ability, positioning, ball handling and delivery as Nigeria placed third. It was glaring the ageing master dribbler and midfield wizard Austin Okocha had a successor in waiting. He would also help the team to third-place finishes at the 2010 and 2019 AFCON, but it was 2013 he got his hands on the continent’s top prize, following an unlikely triumph.

With a largely inexperienced team coached by the late Stephen Keshi, Mikel marshaled the Eagles midfield with his passing vision and role in front of the defence for arguably the first time in his national team career.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

So good was he that year that he was nominated for the African Player of The Year award, but Ivoirian midfielder, Yaya Toure, snatched the award at his expense and rightly so, following his incredible displays for Manchester City in the year under review.

In 2016, with Antonio Conte newly appointed as Chelsea coach, Mikel defied the Blues and manager to represent Nigeria at the Olympics, which irked the Italian.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Most notably, Mikel released over £30,000 of his own money for logistics, including feeding and transportation for the cash-strapped U-23 side, who had the most controversy-tainted preparations ever by an Olympics-bound team.

Who will forget the embarrassment of the team arriving just hours to its opening game against Japan, en route to winning a bronze medal?

On his decision to represent Nigeria at the Olympics rather than fight for a place in Conte’s Chelsea squad, Mikel told BBC, “I have no regrets, not one single regret about going to the Olympics. And I will not trade my Olympics medal for anything. I deserve it, it’s what I deserve, I worked hard for it, so why would I trade it for something else – a place in the Chelsea squad – no, that is impossible.”

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

It was a move that earned him a great deal of goodwill. When Gernot Rohr was made coach of the Super Eagles in 2016, the choice of captain was an obvious one, a player with a history to command the respect of his peers in the dressing room.

His revelation, following the Eagles’ World Cup defeat to Argentina in their last group game, that he had played the game under grave emotional strain, aware his father had been kidnapped for a ransom, offered definitive proof of his leadership qualities and mental fortitude.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

From someone who divided opinion for so long, Mikel had resoundingly won over the affections of a nation by his patriotism, selflessness and commitment.

On the continent, he equally earned his spot as one of Africa’s most decorated footballers, alongside Samuel Eto’o, Yaya Toure and Nwankwo Kanu.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Mikel’s Nigeria career will be remembered as both brilliant and quite unblemished.

Eulogies for retired Eagle

Former coaches, teammates and current Eagles players have all taken to social media to pen tributes to the midfielder, after a glittering career that spanned two decades.

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Nigerian Football Federation Technical Director, Austin Eguavoen, who first coached the former Chelsea star at U-17 level, praised the 35-year-old in the wake of his retirement.

“What a career,” Eguaveon wrote.

“Congratulations on your retirement, John Mikel Obi. It was an honor coaching you at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2003, AFCON 2006 and AFCON 2008. You played it all, and won it all.”

Former Chelsea captain and Mikel’s ex-teammate, John Terry, wrote, “@mikel_john_obi What a great career my friend, it was a pleasure to play and share the dressing room with you. Love you Georgie Boy.”

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Former Ivoirian forward, Salomon Kalou, who arrived Chelsea at the same time with Mikel added, “Thank You Baba. I miss you Baba and thank you for that wonderful journey.”

Al Hilal midfielder, Odion Ighalo, who bowed out of the Eagles with Mikel after the 2019 AFCON, stated, “Congrats skipper and good luck.”

Mikel Obi Opens New Chapter

Ogenyi Onazi wrote, “Ahhh skipper, I miss you. LEGEND.”

“Happy retirement Skippo,” Etebo wrote on Instagram.

Chelsea FC also added, “Enjoy your retirement, Mikel. Thanks for the memories.”

Benevento striker, Simy Nwankwo added, “Congratulations Skippo and good luck for the future.”

Cardiff City defender, Jamilu Collins said, “Enjoy your retirement skipper.

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