Why I Rejected Man United and Barcelona – Mikel Obi

Why I Rejected Man United and Barcelona – Mikel Obi

John Mikel Obi has opened up on the sensational wrangle 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, twice.

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 £4million to his parent club and a further £12m to United in compensation.

Back in 2005 the Nigerian sensation was courted heavily by United, with Ferguson 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.

New Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, desperate to build his side into a European super power with the world’s finest talent, had other ideas and soon showed his determination to land a target.

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 an interview with the Sun.

‘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.

Used to being in demand, Mikel’s world soon went from the crazy to the downright surreal.

In the intermittent period an anonymous agent representing a different club entirely had offered the youngster a briefcase containing $70,000 (£53,000) to sign for a club, though the advances were knocked back.

Pushing through the deal Chelsea managed to get their man by paying Oslo £4m for his services, before settling the dispute with rivals United to the tune of a £12m 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”.

Now it was time for the Nigerian international to say no to one of the game’s most formidable bosses, after deciding Chelsea was where he wanted to play his football.

Speaking to the Scot, 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.

By Danny Gallagher for Mail Sport

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