It hasn't been an easy time for John Obi Mikel at Chelsea this season.
The often unheralded Nigerian midfielder, now in his 11th year with the Blues but on the last year of his current contract, has yet to make a single appearance for the club this season. The arrival of N'Golo Kanté coupled with Nemanja Matic's return to form, not to mention his national team commitments at the Olympics, have marginalized Mikel, just a few months after being featured regularly under interim manager Guus Hiddink.
Many would be quite unhappy in such a situation, but while Mikel’s probably not exactly the happiest he’s ever been with regards to his role at Chelsea, he’s always been a model professional — well, at least once he grew out of his teenage petulance, bad decisions, and hotheadedness — and it’s no different this time.
"I hope I will get some playing time against West Ham [in the League Cup], but it is down to the manager. He has been open and honest with me. I respect him for that. He has explained the situation and I totally understand."
"When you have been at a club for a long time, these things happen where a club wants to move forward. I just have to be professional, work as hard as I can to try and get into the team. I work twice as hard every day and it’s because I appreciate this club."
"I have been here a long time, have a lot of trophies and memories that will never go away. If I don’t get back in the side, I will respect it. I always respect the football club’s decision. The club is more important than me."
Chelsea are set to meet West Ham this Wednesday in the fourth round of the League Cup, but instead of the familiar confines of Upton Park, the match will take place in the cavernous Olympic Stadium, nowadays called London Stadium. The Hammers have been struggling to get comfortable at their new home, having collected only 3 wins, 1 draw and 3 losses in 7 official games played on the Stratford pitch.
Mikel remembers playing at the old ground and how intimidating that all was, unlike the new ground which basically gives both teams that the feeling of playing an away match.
"West Ham’s new ground is very good but I think it’s why they have suffered in the League. It is a big ground, a good pitch and I think clubs go there to express themselves. In a way, every team that goes there feels that both teams are playing away from home."
"In contrast, playing at the Boleyn Ground was very intimidating. The stands were very close, the fans were right there and the pitch wasn’t that big. West Ham knew how to play on that surface, they were used to it. You could hear some of the things their fans were saying to you and it was unnerving."
"But in a big stadium like the one they have now, you can’t hear things. It is only a matter of time before they get used to it and they did just beat Sunderland. I just hope they don’t show what they can do against Chelsea."
Mikel may not feature much for Chelsea this season, especially in the league, but he’s hoping to play a part in successful cup run at least.
"The League Cup is important for us because there is no Champions League football this season. The Premier League is obviously key, but the League Cup is too."
"It will always be special because it was the first trophy I won at the club when we beat Arsenal. We also lifted the trophy in 2015 after beating Tottenham but if we can do it again this season I will be very happy."
-John Obi Mikel; Source: London Evening Standard
Over the past decade, Mikel has become part of the furniture at Stamford Bridge. His name is already a key part of the club’s history; his place assured in the pantheon of loyal, legendary servants of the club. His next appearance will take him to 15th on the all-time appearances list. He’s won everything there is to win, even the hearts of the vast majority of supporters.
He is also just 29 and has many more years left in the professional game, whether at Chelsea or elsewhere.