Oh… Obi Obi Obi

Nov 13 • Featured, Joe Tweeds, Opinion, Player Features • 7097 Views • 30 Comments

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At 25 and with 250 appearances under his belt you would think that Chelsea fans would have a great level of appreciation for John Obi Mikel. After all this is a player who has won every major honour you could possibly wish to win: one Premier League title, four FA Cups, one League Cup, one Community Shield one not forgetting one rather shiny European Cup (we know what we are). He possesses an impressive ability to regularly put his best performances in on the biggest stage. If you look past Cech’s heroic penalty saving and Drogba’s defining career moment the best player on the pitch in a blue shirt was wearing the number 12.

You could say that statement about any cup final Mikel has played in. Stellar performances against United, Arsenal, Everton, Portsmouth and Liverpool all stand out as amongst his best. He was superb under Hiddink in the Nou Camp, when Chelsea famously blunted the best attacking machine in Europe. Mikel marshalled the midfield incredibly that day and left Iniesta and Xavi perplexed. He did exactly the same under Di Matteo in both the home leg and that extraordinary away game. Fabregas kept in his pocket, like Cazorla and Arteta recently, was a common feature against Arsenal. In fact, you would be hard pressed to think of any top tier attacking midfield talent that has actually got the better of him. Yet because he does not score goals or provide moments of brilliance in the final third he seems to be criminally underrated.

The one constant criticism of Mikel is the speed of his play. I have made the point several times that you can only move the ball as quickly as the movement ahead dictates. In recent seasons we have been a powerful and direct side with very little movement. How can you pass the ball forward quickly if every player is marked or static? The contrast with this season already is apparent. Mikel is carrying the ball more, playing the ball quicker and making more penetrative passes.

This season has been one of real development for Mikel. He is assuming a leadership role on the pitch which suits his demeanour. In a side that is burgeoning with attacking talent you need a calming and solid presence in the middle of the pitch. Mikel has been this and more for seasons, but now we are seeing consistent displays of real quality. A mistake against Juventus aside Mikel has been excellent this season. Fans often feel that his concentration and urgency lets him down against the smaller sides, but perhaps the confidence Di Matteo has installed within him has been the major difference.

Mikel is the type of player and plays the type of role that fans often underestimate and underappreciate. John Terry in an interview on Chelsea TV said that he was Mikel’s biggest fan. Similar plaudits from teammates and managers from Mourinho, Hiddink and Di Matteo should also highlight his importance to the team. Yes, the eye catching talents of Hazard, Oscar and Mata are rightfully grabbing most of the acclaim for their extraordinary play. Could they play with such freedom without someone anchoring the midfield as well as Mikel is at the moment?

Zidane famously quipped about Makélelé, “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” Mikel’s role is often inconspicuous because of the simple nature of much of his work. Intercept the ball, win tackles and play the ball away from danger. He is in fact wrongly criticised for his sideways/backwards passing mentality. A comparison of Mikel versus other similar players from last season shows out of the elite holding midfielders only Song and Lucas played more forward passes than him. This season with both Song and Lucas either departed or injured I would be surprised if Mikel was not the most attack-minded holding player in the league.

The current formation requires one midfielder with the tactical discipline and selflessness to let almost every player ahead of him and even in most instances our full-backs bomb on knowing that he is covering behind them. There are definite improvements to be made here, but they will most certainly come with experience. The best holding midfielders in the world are either in their late 20s or early 30s; it is a role that experience greatly improves. Makélelé after all was over 30 when we signed him and had the ability to read the game like no other. Mikel with another 5 years’ experience under his belt could arguably be the complete holding player.

The fact Mikel is often given the ball in situations of intense pressure seems to be missed by most pundits. This is probably the area of Mikel’s game that has impressed most over the past few months. Using his incredible strength and footwork Mikel will almost in every instance turn away from pressure and continue the passing move. He will get caught occasionally, but considering the amount of times every teammate is willing to give him the ball under intense pressure should really dismiss this lazy Match of the Day criticism. To put things in perspective Mikel has been dispossessed of the ball six times all season. In sixteen games this season statistically he has made two defensive errors which in itself is an incredible feat. “Analysts” would rather concentrate on the fact that he does not play two-touch football at the pace of 1970 Brazil than look at how his teammates treat him as their out ball in possession. He is completely trusted and that should speak volumes.

His partnership with Ramires is one that has blossomed in recent weeks. We cannot forget that the role is entirely new to Ramires and certainly that we are, despite performances, still a team in transition. Their work against Arsenal, Tottenham and how they bossed United until the game became the Clattenburg show should present Chelsea fans with real hope that we have a midfield combination that will come to dominate the league. Both players at 25 are about to enter their peak years playing in a side that realistically only needs a standout centre forward to be devastating. If Mikel is the rock then Ramires is the roll, his lung busting all action style being the perfect foil for Mikel. Who knows? If the club actually try to push Luiz forward into one of the midfield spots, we may just have three perfect midfielders for the formation.

Mikel will never be a goal scorer, he may never (although recent games he is showing it more and more) have the ability of Touré to burst out of midfield with the ball and he may not play 60-yard passes or two-touch football in every instance. What he does offer is a player that has the complete trust of every successful manager the club has had and that of every one of his teammates. He is strong, tactically astute, selfless and maturing into a very fine midfielder. For me he is one of the first names on the team sheet and as long as his confidence continues to grow I want to see him dominating average teams and trying more risky passes.

Makélelé was heralded as “the most important and yet least appreciated midfielder at Real”. We as fans might not always see his worth when compared with more illustrious and attack minded colleagues. Florentino Perez once magnificently claimed Makélelé would “not be missed” and he suffered from a “lack of talent.” That lack of talent seems to have mirrored Madrid’s lack of European Cups since his departure. Funny that. Let us not try to fall into the same trap that Perez spectacularly fell into and ignore the very lazy critique of him by journalists/pundits who generally dislike us.

There’s only one Mikel and I hope it just isn’t me who likes him in a blue shirt.

This article originally appeared in the fantastic CFCUK Fanzine. As always if you are of a twitter persuasion you can follow on @JoeTweeds and @PlainsOfAlmeria.

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30 Responses to Oh… Obi Obi Obi

  1. Aurora says:

    Brilliant article, this. I’ve always been on Mikel’s side since he joined us from Lyn. It almost seems like he’s been playing for us for ages, so it’s quite incredible that he’s only 25. As you said, he certainly has his best years ahead of him. This season, with Ramires by his side, he really seems to have matured into a fine midfielder under Di Matteo, more so than previous seasons. I see him getting into the attacking him far more, and who can forget the numerous attacking positions he’s found himself in over the past few games?

    This guy has a great future ahead of him, and I see him growing into the role, one day possibly becoming at par with Makelele. Good to say that there are others out there who appreciate his work on the field.

    And don’t you worry, Obi! That first Chelsea goal approaches!

  2. ossy says:

    only a trained eye would write this!!!

  3. Everard Edbutt says:

    Mikel is quality. I hope he finishes his career with us. He is such an important part of our team

  4. Dave says:

    While i will admit that mikel’s performances have picked up in the last few games, i’ve never been convinced he has enough skill to play for a team like chelsea.

    Throughout his 6 years with us, giving the ball away and clumsy fouls are a problem he has never managed to eradicate, and I would disagree that he always performs well in cup finals and against the better teams.

    I understand that every team needs someone to keep things ticking over and do the dirty work, but i would never compare him to makelele, as he is nowhere near that level of natural class and reading of the game.

    I’m happy that he is getting better but unless his football brain improves i would rather see romeu and mceachran given more chances in this role in the future

    • JoeTweeds says:

      Can you name me a poor cup final performance? Or a game where he has drastically underperformed against top level opposition? He’s infinitely better than Romeu who sadly has looked shocking for a while now. He is also an entirely different player to McEachran. At the same age he was already playing 1st team football and has been picked by every decent manager we’ve had.

      Has any holding midfielder ever had Makélelé’s natural reading of the game? I doubt it. Positioning is something that comes with age and playing frequently. At 25 he’s incredibly young for the role and could easily play another 10 years there without question.

      He also barely gives the ball away, his pass completion and ball dispossession statistics are ridiculous in this respect. The “clumsy foul” criticism is something that you could have said 5 seasons ago, but certainly not now.

  5. Tim Dady says:

    i have a feeling that he is going to become a chelasea great,he will score very soon and then go one to get a lot more goals this year, do not put this young man down,in 6 years evry nanager has played him,who ae we to say they are wrong.the cant be,another year abd he will geting 10 a season.not blind or stupid a 45 year going to the bridge fan

  6. Dave says:

    The league cup final in 08 against spurs was a game where i thought his selection ahead of ballack proved costly, but i will admit he did a great job against bayern in the champions league final.

    Particular poor performances against top level teams that come to mind are at home to liverpool in the league last season, when standing still on the ball cost us a goal, and of course juventus this season.

    Yes, the managers have stuck with him, but i just feel the likes of united and city have a carrick or a toure who can bring the ball out and are more dependable, as even when mikel is playing well i always feel he has a mistake in him.

    On the point of the clumsy fouls, his yellow card on sunday was the case in point that it still goes on now, and mceachran i don’t see getting chances further forward, and this is the role where he could set more attacks up than mikel.

    • JoeTweeds says:

      A League Cup Final? Over every FA Cup Final, semi-final, Champions league final? I don’t think he was poor in that game either. You’ve picked two games he’s made mistakes in out of about 30/40 big games he’s been great in, which kind of proves my point.

      Comparing with Carrick this season. He’s made essentially twice as many tackles, three times as many interceptions and gets beat less one-on-one than Carrick. Looking at Toure, Mikel has won three times as many tackles, twice as many interceptions and gets beat less one-on-one. (All stats from WhoScored.com). There’s also a higher ball retention rate in terms of passes and being dispossessed. Mikel currently has lost the ball 8 times, whereas Toure and Carrick are in double figures by some way. I definitely wouldn’t replace Mikel with either player as DM – Toure in particular lacks any sense of positional discipline, hence like Fellaini is better used further forward.

      Toure’s ability to burst forward with the ball is impressive, but something Mikel has done successfully this season and looks like it will become a feature of his game.

  7. Deji says:

    I simply love this article. It brightens my heart. Thank you for this incisive information. To hell with all mikel’s haters. How i love his style of play!

  8. Dave says:

    You can refer to as many stats as you want over 11 games this season, but the list of better players in this position is a lengthy one. Arteta, fellaini, tiote, carrick, toure. And looking abroad does he give the same level of solidity as alonso, khedira, pirlo, busquets, schweinsteiger? These are all players who don’t slow the play down and can bring the ball out of defence.

    That league cup final was a pretty big game to me, and was in the same season where his lunge against united away sent us down to 10 men in another important league game.

    I wouldn’t say he’s been great and made a huge difference in all other games against the likes of arsenal liverpool city etc. and i don’t think cup finals against the likes of everton and portsmouth were decided on mikel’s brilliance.

    Don’t get me wrong, i still have faith in him, and i know at his best he can be very good, but i would have hoped in 6 years he could have come on further and justified the long battle to sign him. Do united fans feel gutted about not getting him?

  9. JoeTweeds says:

    Please tell me you’re kidding? You criticise him for sloppy fouls and then tell me Tiote, Fellaini and Toure are better? I mean have you seen how chaotic the first two are against anyone decent in the DM role? Come on… you can admit that you just don’t like him. He is currently the best holding player in the league. Arteta? As a holding player? We ran rings around him. Alonso/Pirlo are entirely different players, Busquets plays in a team where he doesn’t need to be very good to succeed, Khedira is okay but gets run about far too much for a player at Madrid & Schweiny is about the best CM on the planet at the moment.

    Being able to stop the oppositions better players from playing is a key part in winning games. The reason we were so effective against Arsenal during the Fabregas years was that he was so often in Mikel’s pocket. If you don’t think that’s important, then we can agree to disagree.

    Speaking with a few United fans in work who saw him play against them live this season, they all said that they’d take him on this form in their midfield now.

  10. Dave says:

    The best in the league? He’s a long way off. Even this season his back pass against qpr nearly lost us the game and around that time he and lampard came under a lot of criticism for stagnating our attacking movement.

    I thought arteta was ok against us and most of the time does a very solid job. I would put our successes against arsenal down to terry, carvalho, alex and of course drogba rather than mikel.

    But i am honest in saying that alongside ramires, who can provide energy from midfield, his level has picked up and i would still pick him against juve next week, though if the rumours about fellaini are true he would walk into the team ahead of mikel. On his day, great, but i still think a lot of improvements can be made to his game.

    • JoeTweeds says:

      I agree that there are definite improvements to be made, but certainly not the rest. Fellaini is a horrible holding player & only looked remotely decent as a withdrawn target man.

  11. Dave says:

    The best in the league? He’s a long way off. Even this season his back pass against qpr nearly lost us the game and around that time he and lampard came under a lot of criticism for stagnating our attacking movement.

    I thought arteta was ok against us and most of the time does a very solid job. I would put our successes against arsenal down to terry, carvalho, alex and of course drogba rather than mikel.

    But i am honest in saying that alongside ramires, who can provide energy from midfield, he has played better and i would still pick him against juve next week, though if the rumours about fellaini are true he would walk into the team ahead of mikel. On his day, great, but i still think a lot of improvements can be made to his game.

  12. Deji says:

    It doesn’t bother me anymore that mikel has haters. Messi, Cr7 etc do have haters too. When a man’s mind is given to negativity, even the best thing you do would still not be good enough! For me,mikel is a fantastic player at his age in a top flight club like chelsea. World class coaches came and all used him effectively and i strongly believe they are not dumbs! Mikel is not a scorer so he needs not score for all i care! If he has chance to score and he is lucky, all the best otherwise pls let him be. It takes a player to be lucky to score a goal, ask messi and Cr7. Let the scorers keep scoring.

  13. Dave B says:

    Interesting to read that Mikel splits opinion clearly, whilst I would agree he has had some vgood performances under his belt he still has areas of his game that can be weak, when on the ball he does at times to misread the options available, sometimes the most simple passes fail to find their intended target, beyond 20/30 yds & fwd tends goes awry. The clumsy fouling & ycs do seem however to be getting less. The timing of tackles is essential in his position as fouls in these areas can often lead to the ultimate reward for opponents. Credit due his protection to the back 4 has got better & better. An area that needs to improve is when he is in fwd areas & a telling ball is required or indeed dare I suggest an attempted shot at goal & on target. The hype over his signing possibly weighed heavy on the shoulders of one so young & from a different country & culture. Indeed many of us looked & often wondered what the fuss of a near legal battle with mufc was all about over this ‘wonderkid’. It does seem that he performs better alongside Ramires than Super Frank, I don’t know if there’s anything in that but that’s how it seems or appears to me. I will say this that he certainly puts in a shift & always seems to give 100% he just needs to match that with greater reading when on the ball, improve key passes & maybe chip in with the odd goal.

    • JoeTweeds says:

      Very fair assessment Dave. I think his best years are ahead of him and given his form this season they could potentially be excellent.

  14. Deji says:

    Dave is a critical analyst. And that is really good. For other pple, notin good is ever seen in the boy.

  15. Alan says:

    To be honest, Mikel’s strength is his ball distribution. That has always been the strength of his game. Something most people dont know about his game is that, his game has changed thrice in his career already: twice before he joined chelsea. If you watch him at under 17 world cup (finland 2003) and under 20, you would get the true picture of whom we are talking about. He played different type of games at both world cups. We in Nigeria know him well, and we trust his passing abilities and even Drogba acknowleged this fact before. Joe Tweeds, I think you should watch his games at youth level especially under 17 and you would realise how much harm chelsea has done to his game.

    • deji says:

      People don’t remember anymore that he was actually converted to play defensively by morinho. Prior to that, he was a fantastic attacking midfielder who ranked 2nd to Messi in a youth world cup tornament. He simply could have been adjudged the best if Nigeria had won the cup! It was this reality that made Man U and Chelsea and lyn oslo to fight over his trasfer!! Even at his present level of experience, his coaches, team mates and fans are all happy with him, so what’s the stress of you haters??? Some people might not have known that at some times he was adjudged as the best passer of the ball ahead of fabregas,lampard,gerrard,scholes etc in epl. Same as the best midfielder in chelsea ahead of lampard , ballack, essien. Statistics about him are available and can’t be faulted beacause its a technical issue that can’t easily be comprehended by just ordinary watcher of the game!! Wait till chelsea let him off the hook and see how many great clubs that would want to have him in their kitty.

  16. Kayode says:

    Thank u for this article! All u haters of Mikel dont make comments because u hate him, make comment based on statistics and not being bias…Mikel is a great player i have always was known that…no wonder he was selected as one of the possible candidate for the AFRICAN FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR…thanks

  17. Thiago says:

    I don’t know why people don’t like Mikel style of play! Mikel is just the best holding DM is the league

  18. Saheb says:

    I don’t get this love affair people have with Fellaini ,this is the same guy who had the most fouls in the league when he played as a DM for Everton.His best and perhaps only position is as an AM.

  19. Dave B says:

    Firstly for those referring to Mikel haters, sorry but I don’t see anyone proclaiming any hate for or to him, I do see both justifiable criticism & acclaim.
    Those that can’t see his weaknesses I will have to assume have not been to games or plainly just not noted the errors he has made. I have seen most every home game since Mikel broke into side, so I comment on what I have seen. Whatever type of player he was before joining cfc it should bear no meaning on his ability to pass or shoot. My criticism is based on what I see & nothing to do with liking or disliking. I actually like the boy & admire the effort he always gives. Hate never, I don’t even hate Malouda so no chance Jon Obi Mikel.

    • deji says:

      Dave, you are a critical analyst like i earlier said. You can’t be classified as a hater in the manner of other people expecially on the tweeter who see nothing good in the boy. You have noted his positives and negatives and that is simply fair. There is no player who does not have negatives. He has been a regular scapegoat whenever chelsea looses and that really hurt me as an ardent fan of him.

  20. Cheyi says:

    I soooo much agreed with you… I never tought I culd see someone who loves mikel as I dooo…for me he is the best holding midfielder chelsea could ever have.. I have a special feeling for him as a player..He rarely d mistakes on the pitch..

  21. bleed_blue says:

    Well, hello Mrs. Mikel
    Here is what Diego Simeone said about Chelsea and Mr. Mikel after his team (Athletico Madrid) comprehensively beat us in cup final
    “Branislav Ivanovic on the right can be surpassed, Mikel plays horizontally, Gary Cahill and David Luiz never participate in the construction of the game.”
    Mikel is a liability on chelsea and you can put the best 4 defenders behind him, get falcao in place of torres and it still wont improve our performances because with Mikel, we start effectively with 10 men in our team.

  22. Kingstonbear says:

    “If Mikel is the rock then Ramires is the roll” A simple, yet perfect description of this partnership.

  23. Rob says:

    It seems that people are warming to Obi. I have to say I have always admired him. Beyond his years from his first game til now. His composure is viewed as lack of urgency by some fans. I tire of hearing that he isn’t good enough. He has been consistent for a long time. Champ league final he carried half of the team at times.
    Hope he signs up for a long time still. One obi mikel

  24. Rob says:

    He’s a very talented young defensive mid that is still improving. Ifhe played elsewhere we would all be clamoring to buy him. We undervalue the bird in the hand….

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