Super Eagles captain, Mikel Obi has opened up on the transfer imbroglio between Manchester United and Chelsea which saw him sign deals with both clubs before giving in to Roman Abramovich and saying “no” to Sir Alex Ferguson,.
John Obi Mikel was a youngster in demand 15 years back, he had just shone for Nigeria at the U17 World Cup, winning the Silver Ball award for the tournament’s second best player after Lionel Messi.
Mikel speaking to ‘The Sun’, reveals one particular offer that was hard to turn down:
“I had agents promising me everything,” he explained. “One approached me in the hotel with a briefcase full of cash.
“I can’t remember what club he claimed to represent — but I do remember the briefcase. “It was crammed with $70,000 (£53,000) and he offered me that to sign some contract before adding: ‘Sign here and you’ll get a lot more’. “I was tempted. I’d never seen so much money but I told the Nigerian FA secretary who was looking after me.
“He told me to ignore this agent but promised I would join the best club. After the tournament, I went home to my family and then saw the secretary again in Abuja
“That’s when he told me: ‘You’re going to United. They want you and you’re leaving tomorrow’.
“My dad was so happy but mum was crying because I was moving abroad at such a young age.”
Mikel had been called to Old Trafford by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson for a one-month trial and despite his tender age, he was thrown straight in at the deep end.
“I trained with the first team,” he recalled. “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.”
Mikel left a big impression on Ferguson, who was eager to snap up the youngster.
“Sir Alex called me Obi-Wan (after the Star Wars character),” Mikel stated.
“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.
“Sir Alex really liked me. He made me feel really comfortable and encouraged me every day.
“He would call me into his office after training, the point at the players’ plush cars in the car park and say: ‘If you work hard, next year you’ll be driving one of those. You are going to play for this club and you are going to be rich’.
“I didn’t know what to say. I was still at school so I didn’t even have an agent.
“I went home again and Sir Alex used to phone a hotel near our house when he wanted to speak to me.”
When United failed to get back with the player over a move, Mikel went about his life, briefly training with the Stamford Bridge outfit, before signing a professional contract with Norwegian side Lyn Oslo. That prompted a visit from Ferguson himself.
The whole thing was so confusing, “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 was offering me £1.5m for three years. I spoke to my dad, who told me I should just go for it.”
Mikel signed a deal with United and was photographed wearing a United shirt, something which did not go down well at Stamford Bridge.
“Chelsea saw it on TV and went crazy. I later discovered they had an agreement with Lyn Oslo not to sell me to any other club.
“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!’.”
A lengthy legal battle ensued between the two sides before a meeting organized by Roman Abramovich convinced Mikel that Chelsea was indeed the right place for him.
“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?’.”
“It was surreal,” admits Mikel. “I was at school but had Chelsea and Manchester United — two of the world’s biggest clubs — trying to sign me. I’ll never forget that second meeting with Sir Alex. I’d signed a deal at United but had to tell him: ‘Sorry, I want to play for Chelsea’.
“He really liked me but I could see how angry and disappointed he was.
“Some things he told me made me think about changing my mind but I was thinking about Jose, too.
“I had these two great managers wanting me and I did not know what to do.
“Fergie told me: ‘Why would you turn down United? It’s the biggest club in the world. You cannot do that. You have to say Yes. If it’s money, I can give you what you want’. “But it was never about the money.
“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’.”