Mikel must move to rediscover his magic touch

By KayCee July 27, 2014 06:59

If there is one thing to be said for John Obi Mikel, it is that he is no stranger to difficult circumstances. The Chelsea midfielder is presently on an extended break, resting up from his World Cup exertions with Nigeria. Upon his return, he is sure to find the furniture at Cobham has been moved around quite a bit.

The world is, to this day, in awe of the genius of Harry Houdini, a master of escapology. He contrived the most difficult bonds and fantastical contraptions, and materialised from them unfettered to widespread adulation. However, a lot of his manacles were self-made. So it is with the Super Eagles’ number 10. The difference is people pay to see football in stadiums, not escape artists.

Not that magicians and footballers are much different. However, when expected to fulfil a role that indulges sleight of body and mind, Mikel conjured up no wonder in Brazil.

There have been reports that the London-based club is eager to get him off the books, and have slashed his asking price in a bid to generate interest. A year is a long time in football, and a decade seems a lifetime ago now for the 27-year-old, whose arrival to British football was in the wake of an acrimonious battle between Chelsea and Manchester United.

Mikel has gone from being sought after to being hawked around.

It is not hard to see why, neither is it overly surprising. Mikel has made a Blues’ career out of managing escapes, wriggling out of a hole he has steadily dug himself into. Under different managers, he has defied initial predictions of doom to stay relevant, but only just. The mental and emotional wear appears to have taken a toll: Mikel looked like a man running in treacle at the World Cup, and was completely unable to get to grips with the flow of the Nigerian team.

His contribution at Chelsea has also steadily petered out, and he now finds himself pretty much at the bottom of the Chelsea midfield pecking order. Oriol Romeu is back from one of those loans the club seems to specialise in; Marco van Ginkel is very highly rated, and may have gazumped Mikel already last season had he not injured his anterior cruciate ligaments; Nemanja Matic towers above him, physically and figuratively; and Ramires offers a staple all coaches love: tireless running round the clock.

Add to these the adaptable Oscar and, at a stretch, new signing Cesc Fabregas who can also play deeper in midfield, and that is six players who can fill the two deep midfield positions in a 4-2-3-1. Even worse, all of them are superior footballers (perhaps Romeu might be deemed the exception, but even that is by no means clear-cut).

The writing was already on the wall, even before Jose Mourinho petitioned the club’s Russian cheque book to bring back Nemanja Matic from Benfica in the winter transfer window. It is no secret that the Special One is not on Rafael Benitez’s Christmas list, and upon his return to Stamford Bridge, he quickly moved to distance himself from the Spaniard’s big experiment in his short stint: using David Luiz in midfield.

Soon enough though, Mourinho was fielding the footloose Brazilian as a midfield anchor, and many sneered at what was perceived to be hypocrisy. However, you can be sure only a matter of absolute necessity could have forced Mourinho to effectively endorse his long-standing rival. Mikel unconvincing displays held sway over the Portuguese’s vanity, no small feat in itself.

By electing to be the team’s workhorse, content to do only as the coach asks for the past decade, he has failed to fulfil his potential and truly push on a personal level. Even clay, however malleable, must retain a certain consistency. That is the paradox by which Mikel has been hung out to dry as the clubs seeks to get him off the wage bill.

What now for Mikel?

These are his peak years, and a good player does not become altogether rubbish. Specifically, it appears there is an eye toward the Italian market. For a price of £4.8 million, whoever takes a punt will be getting a multiple Premier League champion and a Champions League winner, who still has three years (at least) of consistent performance.

Mourinho’s patience for his one-time protégé has run dry

If the desired interest was to materialise, it is a move that makes sense for all parties. Chelsea free up some funds for wages; the buying club gets experience and technical ability; and Mikel gets to play in a slower paced league. Serie A is starting to earn a reputation as a good hunting ground for veterans, witnessed by Maicon’s successful first season with Roma at the ripe old age of 32. Already, Patrice Evra and former team-mate Ashley Cole have moved to the peninsula to stay competitive.

Perhaps Italian sun could be the tonic that peps Mikel back to form. Aside the less rough-and-tumble nature of Italian football, Serie A boasts a number of Europe’s brightest coaches. Think what the charisma of a manager like Vincenzo Montella could do for the Super Eagles midfielder, or the young and articulate Andrea Stramaccioni who is settling in at Udinese. Fiorentina or a move to Friuli may seem a step backwards in terms of prestige, but may turn out to be a step forward in relevance.

Perhaps even at AC Milan too, with Filippo Inzaghi shorn of team captain Ricardo Montolivo presently.

What is undeniable is that in Serie A, there will be a greater appreciation for his calm passing and less consequence for his lack of pace and dynamism. No more an escape artist, Mikel may finally be able to rediscover a creative spark long forgotten, as well as a quiet place by the Mediterranean Sea.

First though, he must extricate himself from West London.

It was 13 years ago when a certain Andrea Pirlo got a positional makeover on loan at Brescia that transformed him into one of football’s finest ever deep-lying playmakers. Mikel will never hit those heights.

If he applies himself in Italy (or elsewhere) and shows some of the personal ambition that has been lacking in his career to date though, he may finally achieve the recognition befitting a player whose name was once measured in the same conversation as Lionel Messi.

Source: Goal.com



By KayCee July 27, 2014 06:59