‘Every team needs a Mikel. They’ve got one of the best, a Champions League winner’
Steve McClaren believes the January addition of John Obi Mikel has transformed Boro’s season.
“Every team needs a Mikel,” he says.
Boro are the side fortunate enough to have him.
The Nigerian was again immaculate in the 2-0 win over McClaren’s Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, patrolling the midfield with such composure and control.
A few eyebrows were raised when Boro signed Mikel, with the former Chelsea man short of match fitness and returning from a stint in China.
But he’s slotted seamlessly into the Boro side, has hardly missed a minute since he signed and has barely put a foot wrong, bossing the midfield and allowing the midfielders in front of themselves to shine and express themselves.
McClaren has been impressed from afar and on Saturday was impressed from the opposition dugout.
“I think Mikel has been an excellent signing,” he said.
“You always have that one player who gives you stability, control, never gives the ball away.
“They’ve got one of the best, a Champions League winner. He dominates in there, he takes care of the ball.
“Every team needs a Mikel. He’s certainly the kind of enforcer in there, defensively and he keeps the ball ticking.
“I’ve been impressed with him. He’s given another edge to Middlesbrough.”
The former Boro boss added: “For me looking in from the outside, it’s kind of changed their season. Also, the introduction of Assombalonga, Wing and Fletcher as a front three. That makes them more potent, more attacking, which they’ve probably not had. So when we lost the ball they were dangerous.”
Mikel was in-demand in January and had offers from the Premier League, from Boro’s Championship rivals and from clubs on the continent. McClaren, though, wasn’t at all surprised that the 31-year-old opted for Teesside.
“This is a huge club with great potential,” he said.
“They want to get promotion, Tony Pulis knows how to do that. The chairman wants it. They’ve sat together and decided this guy (Mikel) could make a difference. He’s certainly doing that.”