Chelsea

Mikel: I wish I’d known then what I know now

After a standout performance in the Legends of Europe game, John Mikel Obi spoke about the emotion of being back at the Bridge, beating Bayern Munich again, and which former Blues team-mate is like a twin…

As can be the case in a player’s career when the fates conspire, John Mikel Obi did not have the chance for a proper on-pitch farewell when his trophy-laden time as a Chelsea player came to an end.

Unlike many of those with whom he shared the Stamford Bridge pitch again on Saturday night, such as John Terry and Gary Cahill to name a famous two, it was not known in advance when the Nigerian played his final game (at Anfield in May 2016) that he would be leaving and so the plaudits were kept on ice.
Mikel remained at Chelsea for a further half-season without playing a game until, with his contract drawing to an end and N’Golo Kante now on the scene, he moved on in January 2017. His time as a Blue lasted over a decade and yielded 10 major trophies.

Six-and-a-half years later, Mikel was back striding around the Stamford Bridge pitch. It felt like the midfielder had barely been away – and with that came the opportunity to finally show his appreciation to the Chelsea faithful.

‘I think it did make up for it a little bit,’ the now 36-year-old told us after the 4-0 win against Bayern Munich’s Legends, and before he spent more time catching up with former team-mates.
When I was coming out I could feel the fans clapping and cheering. That brought some emotion out of me, coming back and playing and some of the actions that happened in the game. They brought back a lot of good memories.

‘It just felt like we were back, the old Chelsea, the way we were on the front foot.’

Mikel ended his playing career almost a year ago but has kept himself in supreme shape. It enabled him to play the majority of Saturday’s fixture at the Bridge; he looked hardly a day older than on his last outing in a blue shirt in 2016.

‘I look younger, don’t I?’ he suggested with a big smile.
‘I am looking after myself, trying to eat right, trying to train right. I wish I knew half of the things I know now when I was still playing, I think it would have added a lot more to my game, a lot more to my career. I know more about who I am now, about myself and what gets me going. But hey, that is part of life.’

The fact the opposition on Saturday were Bayern Munich held special significance for Mikel.

Though Petr Cech and Didier Drogba grabbed the headlines – understandably so – on that night in 2012 when Chelsea won the Champions League, it was our midfield anchor who many supporters believe produced the outstanding performance over 120 minutes.

‘My best-ever game,’ Mikel confirmed. ‘I should have won the man of the match but Didier obviously came good and saved the day. I’ve watched that game a few times since…
There’s nothing better than this,’ he added as he surveyed the scene where he had just relived a career high point.

‘Popping the ball around, seeing JT and Petr behind us, it just brings back memories. Having Michael Essien in the middle with me, it was a joy tonight.

‘I thought the game was really good, we played really well and got the goals. Bayern also had a few moments when they had a bit of a chance but we are Chelsea and when you play at home, you always want to win. That mentality is always there.’

Unfortunately, one goal that did not quite materialise was when Mikel played his great friend Salomon Kalou through near the end of the game.

Drogba used to describe their rumbustious relationship as akin to cartoon characters Tom and Jerry, which leads you to expect Mikel will not be letting the forward forget his miss in the Legends game in a hurry.

‘Me and him, we are like twins. I love Kalou,’ Mikel laughed.

‘He is an amazing guy and we have crazy, crazy banter together. We fight, we make up, and at the end of the day we absolutely love each other.
After I set him up, I wanted him to score but he didn’t, but he had an amazing game so it is ok.’

Like many of the former Chelsea stars who entertained a big crowd at the weekend, Mikel travelled in from afar to take part. Having finished his playing days in Kuwait, he now lives in Dubai.

‘I’m there with my family, with my twins growing up. They’re going be eight in a few days so a big party is coming.

‘This was a chance to see people I haven’t seen in a long time: JT, Makelele, Malouda, Gary Cahill, Ryan Bertrand, all these guys that I played with. It just brings back little memories.

‘It’s nice we actually won the game and we can celebrate that. I would do it again!’

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