The Nigerian has been at Chelsea since 2006 and has made himself a household name in world football. From being a highly rated attacking midfielder, the former Lynn Oslo man has evolved over 9 years to become one of best pure defensive midfielders in the modern game.
After almost a decade with the Blues, does the talented Nigerian still have a role at the club?
After Jose Mourinho’s famous decision to convert the 27 year old to a more defensive player, Obi has surprisingly outlasted world class players such as Ballack, Essien, Thiago and even the Legendary Claude Makalele. Mikel’s competence in his converted position is undeniable.
The Nigerian midfielder’s initial strengths were great vision and competent long and short range passing but as the years went by; he slowly lost these abilities and picked up entirely new ones, such as solid tackling, good defensive positioning and an above average heading ability.
A great servant to the club, Mikel is currently experiencing what all great servants do; younger players are vying to take his place at club. Players like Van Ginkel, Romeu, Chalobah and Nathan Ake are players the club is supposedly grooming to take over from the Nigerian.
The return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea last season, relegated Mikel to the bench as the Portuguese manager made a January signing in Nemanja Matic and even opted to play the Brazilian centre back Luiz out of position in midfield, while the Nigerian looked on from the sidelines.
The reason for the snub seemed apparent at first glance. As every player in modern day football has two duties while on the pitch, which are primary and secondary duties.
In Mikel’s instance, his primary position as an anchor man was to screen the back four as efficiently as possible. While his secondary duty would be to start attacks by recycling possession as quickly as possible and taking the occasional long shots.
Even though Mikel has mastered the act of shielding his defense, the Nigerian international has been accused of holding on to the ball for far too long. So long, that by the time he eventually passed to a forward player, the opposition’s defense would have regained their shape. At other times his slowness causes the opposition to dispossess him, and subsequently launch an attack of their own.
The Chelsea manager is a counter attacking specialist. So the question remains; what use is a player who dawdles for far too long on the ball, to a counter attacking system?
If all Chelsea need is a solid defensive minded player and nothing more, then players such Romeu and Van Ginkel could provide that and even add an positive or two, such as arriving late in the box to add a finishing touch or even an accurate long shot.
With Chelsea trying to give youth players more of a chance to play for the first team and with the acquisition of a deep lying playmaker in the mould of Cesc Fabregas, Mikel’s days at the Blues are numbered.
He doesn’t provide any unique attributes and even the qualities in which he thrives, are not exclusive to him. A push for a move out of London in search of a club to offer him regular playing time, should be next on his agenda after the successes he has enjoyed at Chelsea.