With the summer departures of Didier Drogba and Petr Cech, John Obi Mikel will find himself starting the 2015/16 season in the unfamiliar role of being Chelsea’s second longest serving player, behind only John Terry.
This may be strange for Chelsea fans to fathom concerning a player who has always been considered a ‘junior’ member of the first team squad, but having racked up over 300 appearances since joining the club in 2006 Mikel now finds himself as one of the most experienced players at Stamford Bridge. Certainly, at the age of 28, the Nigerian should be entering the prime years of his career.
Yet despite playing under nine different managers in his nine seasons with the Blues, Mikel has rarely found himself as a first-choice pick in the Chelsea midfield, with successive managers quite understandably preferring the likes of Claude Makélélé, Michael Essien and now Nemanja Matić in the defensive midfield role.
However, this does not mean Mikel has not played an important role in his near-decade with the club. Regularly brought on as a substitute to shore up games, and just as regularly from the start in the big games against dangerous opposition, Mikel has long been trusted to do a job against some of the best attacking players in the world.
Like many of his generation, Mikel’s crowning moment was a brilliant performance in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. With a severely depleted squad bereft of John Terry, Branislav Ivanović and Raul Meireles, and with centre-back pairing Gary Cahill and David Luiz not fully fit, the Nigerian produced a combative and disciplined display that helped nullify a midfield containing the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller.
His performance that day and in many big games since have underlined his reliability in that unglamorous defensive midfield role, and Jose Mourinho is sure to call on him again to perform a similar role in 2015/16. Mikel remains a divisive figure amongst Chelsea supporters, but he has consistently been picked in pivotal matches by some of the best managers in world football.
With his new-found seniority and the promise of regular opportunities for young players such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and possibly Nathaniel Chalobah in the new season, Mikel will be expected to help and share his experience with the new crop fresh from the Chelsea academy. Loftus-Cheek in particular has been earmarked for an important role in the first-team squad, and whilst the youngster will be expected to offer more on the ball than Mikel, he would be wise to pick up some of the Nigerian’s nous when it comes to protecting the back four, breaking up opposition attacks and retaining possession.
Whilst he emergence of players such as Loftus-Cheek may limit Mikel’s playing time further, with another busy season ahead he remains an important player in a position where Chelsea lack depth. His importance in the big games remains undiminished, and it may be that Loftus-Cheek is not immediately trusted to partner Matic against teams such as Manchester City and Arsenal or against stronger sides in the latter stages of the Champions League. With possibly the best strike-rate of appearances to major trophies in world football, Mikel will be hopeful of adding more silverware to an already-packed trophy cabinet in 2015/16.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits