Ex-super Eagles captain Mikel Obi has described his time under Jose ‘The Special One’ Mourinho as rewarding, as he called time on his career at 35.
Though, many of his fans have repeatedly claimed the Portuguese coach ‘killed’ his attacking prowess, which landed him Nigeria’s iconic number 10 shirt, he said, he won the most trophies as a defensive midfielder in Chelsea.
Mikel won every major honour possible in his 11-year spell at Stamford Bridge
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Mikel told Pulse Sports: ‘Obviously, I was such a creative midfield player, I was so creative. I was so gifted with the ball, I never lost the ball, and that’s why I played the number 10 role. I was this guy who made everything happen.
‘And then going to Chelsea, obviously with those big-name players, massive players, you have to kind of give something.
‘And then, he [Mourinho] looked at it and said, “I can’t really get you to play it [No 10] because we have the likes of Joe Cole playing there. We have massive names playing there, you’ll have to change something,” and we had a chat about it.
‘I thought it was a positive chat, and after that, he said, “I see you playing there [deeper in midfield].”‘
It may have harmed his attacking output, but in hindsight, Mikel’s positional switch under Mourinho eventually proved a masterstroke – and helped Chelsea write a new chapter in their decorated history.
On Tuesday Mikel, who featured 372 times in a trophy-laden 11-year stint with the Blues, announced his retirement from football aged 35 following a curtain-closing spell in the Kuwait Premier League.
He scooped up every major honour there was to win at the Bridge, lifting the Premier League twice, the FA Cup three times, and also capturing the League Cup, Europa League, and Champions League.
Mikel recalled his most cherished performance in the 2012 Champions League final – which helped the Blues topple Bayern Munich in their own backyard to become European champions-though under a new coach.
Following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, interim boss Roberto Di Matteo reintroduced a number of key men ostracised under the previous regime, including Mikel.
The latter was one of several warhorses who helped guide Chelsea to the unlikeliest of Champions League final triumphs that season; which included a three-goal comeback against Napoli, a heroic recovery with 10 men away at Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and, most memorably, a dramatic victory against Bayern Munich in their own backyard.
They say big players rise to the big occasions, and on May 19, 2012, at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Mikel produced a performance for the ages as Di Matteo’s men stunned Bayern to win the big-eared trophy on penalties.
Didier Drogba’s last-gasp bullet header and tournament-winning penalty are the images that spring to mind for most when reminiscing about that final.
But across the 120 minutes of action, Mikel was comfortably Chelsea’s top performer on the night. In fact, he was perhaps even the best player on the pitch.
His defining moment in a Chelsea shirt came in the 2012 Champions League final in Munich
Mikel’s phenomenal display in midfield helped Roberto Di Matteo’s men spark a huge upset
The elegant, classy midfield anchor did not tire of breaking up Bayern’s offensive efforts on the night, providing a much-needed shield in front of a barely-fit Gary Cahill and David Luiz at the back.
In a clip that went viral on social media last year, Mikel’s outstanding defensive work and silky play in midfield that evening is clear for all to see. Quite simply, he performed out of his skin.
Without that majestic display, Bayern may well have been out of sight by the time Drogba powered home his equalising header at the death. His legendary penalty to crown Chelsea as champions of Europe for the first time may also have never come.
‘I had lots of good games, but given what was at stake, that is my best game for Chelsea,’ he told The Athletic last year. ‘We were playing on their home ground, in their stadium. It added to the pressure. defensively and going forward. It’s a game I’m proud of. What makes it more special is I saved my best performance for Chelsea’s biggest ever game. Not bad, eh?’
“I had a great game. The whole team kind off said so after the game and whenever I watched the clip, I think I played that role with some quality.”