It's perhaps an unfair narrative, one of many, that has attached itself to John Obi Mikel over the years. After all, one does not amass 365 appearances (that's NINETEENTH(!!) all-time in Chelsea history) without actually playing plenty of games rather than just sitting on the bench and collecting a fat paycheck.
Last season was in fact that first time in his Chelsea career that Mikel failed to make at least 30 appearances. This season was running along similar lines until Hiddink arrived, and drafted the midfielder back into the regular starting lineup. Chelsea's fortunes haven't really turned around to a great degree, but at least Mikel's been happy. And now, he wants to ensure that happiness — i.e. playing time — continues, even if that takes him away from Stamford Bridge.
"I have one more season with Chelsea but I know when this season ends, we will definitely sit down and try to sort out whatever needs to be sorted out."
"If it means me leaving, fine. If it means me staying, then I have to play because one thing I don't want to do is to sit on the bench like I did before [...] especially now when you have kids you just want to do what you can to play."
"Wherever it is I just want to play. When this season ends we will definitely sort out the contracts."
-John Obi Mikel; source: Goal
The names ahead of Mikel in the top appearances chart are all undisputed legends: Bentley, Tambling, Cooke, Osgood, Drogba, just to name a few of the closest. Mikel's a month shy of his 29th birthday; if he stays, he has a real chance of surpassing them all. Alas, it's increasingly looking like he will join the summer exodus from SW6. After all these years of false rumors about him leaving, we might actually see one of them come true.
This, his tenth season, could very well be Mikel's last at Chelsea.