Nigeria’s Super Eagles captain and Tianjin TEDA midfielder, John Mikel Obi who spent nine years at Stamford Bridge, made 374 appearances for Chelsea, winning two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, One Champions League trophy and one Europa League trophy, has opened up on fight between Manchester United and Chelsea to get his signature shortly after FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Finland in 2003.
Mikel Obi, who earned a month trial at Old Trafford before United struck a provisional deal with Norwegian outfit Lyn Oslo to bring him to the Theatre of Dreams, revealed that United offered him a staggering £1.5m contract but Chelsea’s involvement became a hindrance for the deal to be sealed as he made a stunning u-turn to Stamford bridge in 2006.
“It was surreal,” admits Mikel. “I was at school, but had Chelsea and Manchester United — two of the world’s biggest clubs — trying to sign me. I’ll never forget that second meeting with Sir Alex. I’d signed a deal at United but had to tell him: ‘Sorry, I want to play for Chelsea’.
“He really liked me but I could see how angry and disappointed he was.
“Some things he told me made me think about changing my mind but I was thinking about Jose, too.
“I had these two great managers wanting me and I did not know what to do.
“Fergie told me: ‘Why would you turn down United? It’s the biggest club in the world. You cannot do that. You have to say Yes’.
“As a footballer, you have to make decisions that you live with for the rest of your life.”
“I trained with the first team,” he recalls. “Roy Keane was my bodyguard.
“Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt always tried to kick me but couldn’t when Roy was there because he’d have killed them.
“Sir Alex called me Obi Wan (after the Star Wars character).
“He called me into his office one day and said: ‘Obi Wan, do you know what Keane, Scholes and all the senior players have told me? They said you have to sign that boy’.
“I couldn’t believe it. Here was I, a schoolkid from Africa, training with some of the best in the world.”
He further revealed how football agents stormed his hotel room to get him to sign for their clubs;
“I had agents promising me everything,” he recalls. “One approached me in the hotel with a briefcase full of cash.I can’t remember what club he claimed to represent — but I do remember the briefcase. It was crammed with $70,000 (£53,000) and he offered me that to sign some contract before adding: ‘Sign here and you’ll get a lot more’.
“I was tempted. I’d never seen so much money but I told the Nigerian FA secretary who was looking after me.