Super Eagles captain John Mikel Obi has revealed how he almost ended up playing for Spanish giant Barcelona before he was snapped up by English champions Chelsea.
Mikel disclosed in an interview with UK tabloid the Sun that Barcelona were eager to take advantage of the contention between Chelsea and Manchester United for his signature.
Mikel also opened up on the sensational wrangle between the two premiership clubs, which saw him sign deals with both clubs before giving in to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Mikel’s eventual move to the Premier League as one of the hottest prospects in world football was marred with controversy, with the outcome seeing Chelsea pay £4 million to his parent club and a further £12 million to United in compensation.
Back in 2005 the Nigerian sensation was courted heavily by United, with manager Sir AlexFerguson desperate to add the midfielder to his ranks and cultivate him into one of the finest talents in world football.
The move got far enough down the line that Mikel, following a month’s trial at United’s Carrington base, put pen to paper on a provisional deal with the Red Devils.
Such was his impact at United, despite being the tender age of 15, captain Roy Keane protected him from big tackles in training and then, along with other senior figures including Paul Scholes, urged Ferguson to sign him for the club.
United offered him a staggering £1.5m contract even though he had only just left school, but Chelsea’s involvement was soon to signal tides of change.
After initially speaking to both representatives from United and Chelsea, the school boy made the switch to Norwegian outfit Lyn Oslo where he continued to dazzle – awaiting either of the Premier League giants to get back in touch before later penning the deal with United.
A secret meeting was quickly arranged with Jose Mourinho, despite the allegiance that had already been pledged to fierce title rivals United.
“Roman Abramovich organised six cars to get me there. It was like a military operation,” Mikel said during the interview.
“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?’,” Mikel added.
In the intermittent period an anonymous agent representing a different club entirely had offered the youngster a briefcase containing $70,000 to sign for a club, though the advances were knocked back.
Pushing through the deal Chelsea managed to get their man by paying Oslo £4 million for his services, before settling the dispute with rivals United to the tune of a £12 million compensation pay-out.
Earlier Ferguson had promised Mikel the world once he thought he had succeeded in bringing the young talent to Old Trafford.
Mikel notes how Ferguson took a shine to him and recounted: “He would call me into his office after training, 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’.”
Mikel noted how the anger in Ferguson was apparent, before he went on to outline how no player should turn down Manchester United.
“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,” Mikel added.
After a year of waiting on the sidelines before getting clearance to play for the Blues, Mikel finally made his Chelsea debut on the grand stage of the Champions League on 12 September 2006, against Bulgarian club Levski Sofia.
An 11-year spell in English football with the Blues later, Mikel’s decision to move to Stamford Bridge was certainly vindicated.
Mikel left Chelsea a fan favourite, having won the Champions League and Europa League, two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups.