John Obi Mikel has revealed that he rejected a move to Manchester United and opted for Chelsea because the London club were prepared to sign three more Nigerian players.
Mikel was 18 at the time and playing for Norwegian club Lyn Oslo when he was filmed accepting a Man United shIrt from club representative Jim Ryan with the number 21 in 2005. The Nigerian signed for United but stated his desire to play for Chelsea a month later.
According to Man United manager Carlos Queiroz, Chelsea had kidnapped Mikel while the director of Lyn Oslo said Mikel was pushed into a Chelsea move.
Chelsea finally settleD the matter with payments of £12 million to Man United and £4 million to Lyn in 2006. Mikel has finally revealed what happened at the time.
“My Dad wasn’t too pleased about what happened,” Mikel said in a chat with the Players’ Tribune. “He wanted me to go to Manchester United because he loved Alex Ferguson.
Back home in Nigeria, a lot of people were saying I should go to United because of how well they work with young players, whereas Chelsea just bought superstars.
I had all these people on both sides fighting over me. Agents, managers, strangers, guys handing me papers. I had Sir Alex Ferguson calling me on the phone on one side. And I had Roman Abramovich on the other side, putting me up in London, hiding me somewhere where only a few people knew where I was. It was really confusing, and I was a kid, you know?
“After a while, someone from FIFA gave me a phone call. They said, ‘Listen, we know you’re young and you have these two clubs fighting over you. We can’t decide for you. You can only go where you want. You have to tell us.’
“I thought about it for a long time. It was the biggest decision of my life. You know what made my mind up? Chelsea had signed three other players from Nigeria along with me. They were staying with me at the house in London to keep me company. These guys … their lives depended on the decision I was making. If I went to United, they were gone. If I went to Chelsea, they were going to have a career. No matter how long it lasted, that was important to me. Just to give them a chance, you know?
“I chose Chelsea, and four lives changed that day.”