Mikel being unveiled as Manchester United player
The Nigerian midfielder revealed that hard nut, Roy Keane was his own personal bodyguard when he was just a schoolboy, but when Sir Alex Ferguson invited Mikel to train at United after impressing for his country at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup in 2003, the youngster was thrown in the deep end with the first-team.
Mikel added that during the month long-trail, the time no-nonsense Keane took him under his wing. He said: “I trained with the first team. Roy Keane was my bodyguard.
“Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt always tried to kick me but couldn’t when Roy was there because he’d have killed them.
“Sir Alex called me Obi Wan (after the Star Wars character). He called me into his office one day and said: ‘Obi Wan, do you know what Keane, Scholes and all the senior players have told me? They said you have to sign that boy’.
“I couldn’t believe it. Here was I, a schoolkid from Africa, training with some of the best in the world,” Mikel added.
United thought they had signed the next sensation when Mikel put pen to paper at a hastily-arranged press conference in 2005 and was photographed in a United shirt, But following a series of secret meetings with Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, Mikel eventually decided to join Chelsea, leaving Fergie furious.
The twist in the transfer came when the young Nigerian sensation met agent, John Shittu, the agent represented Chelsea’s interest and told him the Blues wanted him.
“I’d heard nothing from United so I agreed to go. I was training with Chelsea’s first team and then we were sent to Ajax Cape Town in South Africa,” says Mikel.
Mikel then signed Shittu as his agent and, after seven months, the player was moved to Norway, to train with Lyn Oslo, managed by ex-United star Henning Berg. On turning 18, Mikel signed a pro contract with Lyn Oslo, but after playing just half a dozen matches Fergie flew out to speak to him.
“The whole thing was so confusing,” says Mikel. “I thought I had something with Chelsea but United told me they had been looking for me and then Sir Alex visited me.“
He said: ‘We want you, we don’t want to lose you again’. “Before I knew it, a contract had been sent to Lyn Oslo. United were offering me £1.5m for three years. I spoke to my dad, who told me I should just go for it.”
A contract was quickly arranged for Mikel and he was unveiled in 2005 as a Manchester United player. “Chelsea saw it on TV and went crazy,” he says. “I later discovered they had an agreement with Lyn Oslo not to sell me to any other club.”
Two big clubs went into war because of Mikel Obi. “Then John flew to Oslo to speak to me. My friends were calling me and then I thought, maybe I had been manipulated. All this was very hard for me.
“I was so young, we flew to London. I remember thinking: ‘I’ve signed for United but now I’m flying to Chelsea!’. I stayed in a house that Chelsea paid for but didn’t kick a ball for any club for a year,” he says.
Despite not playing club football, Mikel was invited into the Senior National team The Super Eagles and he helped them to the Semi final of the Nations Cup in Egypt in 2006. After the teenager got back to England, he was summoned to a meeting with then Premier League chief, Sir Dave Richards.
“He offered to help me,” recalls Mikel. “He told me it was making enemies between the two big clubs.
“I told him I wanted to play for Chelsea and he said he would help resolve it. Then I had a secret meeting with Mourinho at his house.
“Roman Abramovich organised six cars to get me there. It was like a military operation. I started in one car, then the drivers would talk to each other and suddenly I was dropped off and then picked up by another car.
“Once there, Jose told me: ‘The boss really wants you. I’ll play you and make you what you want to be’. That really helped as there were times when I thought: ‘Have I made the right decision?’.”
The whole crazy affair was resolved when Chelsea forked out £4m to Lyn Oslo and £12m compensation to United. But not before Mikel had another meeting with Fergie, seven days after his chat with Mourinho and not before Barcelona tried to hijack the deal.
“Fergie said: ‘If it’s money, I can give you what you want’. But it was never about the money,” insists Mikel, “I had Barca waiting to pounce if the legal wrangle couldn’t be sorted, but felt obliged to sign for Chelsea as they’d looked after me.
“I heard nothing from United after my trials but Chelsea looked after me and my family. I had a loyalty to them.
“Sir Alex did shake my hand on one visit to Old Trafford. I remember what he said when asked how it felt to lose me: ‘He is still going to play for me one day’.”
However Mikel never played for Manchester United but went on to have an illustrious career with the London club.
Chelsea ended paying Manchester United £12million in compensation over the move, but it proved the correct one as Mikel became one of the club’s most decorated players, winning the Champions League and Europa League, two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups in his 11 years there.
Mikel put his impressive Chelsea career to a halt in January 2017 when he joined Chinese outfit Tianjin TEDA F.C.