European and African Champion John Obi Mikel (second left) is a character who divides opinion amongst Chelsea fans
When I mention John Obi Mikel to you, and ask how highly you rate him, I’m not really sure on the response I’d get. In a inconsistant and fluctuating season for the Blues this season, the views and opinions of this Nigerian midfielder have been exactly the same, but what do we think of John Obi Mikel?
Through the years, the Nigerian has often been a scapegoat for Chelsea fans, many blaming his negative play with passing sideways or backwards when we feel the ball should go forward. Many also criticise his lack of goals, assists, just generally criticise him for anything he does. Often too slow on the ball and his decision making is not always best, Chelsea fans have been on his back for much of his career at Chelsea and especially in some stages of this season.
This season though, there has been a lot more support for the midfielder, with many starting to see the true worth of his positional play and all round game. I remember the time of the African Cup of Nations 2013, when nearly every Chelsea fan throughout the world was begging for him to return after the suicidal double pivot combination of Ramires and Lampard. The solidity in midfield is vastly increased once he is stuck in there and when playing alongside Ramires, they seem to bring the best out of each other. Ramires’ driving runs and high work rate are at there most effective when the ever defensive John Obi Mikel is there.
It has come to my attention though, through following many fans on Twitter, that a lot of Mikel opinions are based on whatever he did in his last performance. After he’s had a good game and we’ve won, we all praise him, some even hail him the best all round central midfielder we possess. However, after a substandard Chelsea performance against perhaps Southampton, he returns to being the scapegoat and he is harshly criticised when perhaps many others should be blamed – often the whole team. You’d think with having the ex-Liverpool trio of scapegoats at the club Mikel would get away, but he still doesn’t when, like I said, others are more deserving of the blame.
The thing about Mikel is that his true value is only really felt when he doesn’t play. He doesn’t score, he doesn’t assist but what he does do is helps the defensive side of our game, but this is only felt when he doesn’t figure in the starting line up. I’m not saying we will never concede when Mikel is in midfield because that is proposterous, but watch Ramires and Lampard play in the double pivot and then watch Ramires and Mikel in the pivot and note the difference. It’s big.
He’s never going to be a fans favourite, he’s never going to reach 200 goals for Chelsea and he most certainly isn’t worth his own weight in Russian gold, what he is though, in our current squad condition, is the balance. The balance we’ve searched for in our midfield, he along with Romeu hold their ground and allow the attacking players to play their natural game, not be square pegs in round holes trying to play defensively. With Romeu out injured, Mikel is essential to our starting XI, boasting a high level of experience which sure is useful for a still relatively young guy.
The message I’m trying to express here – if it isn’t already clear – is that Mikel holds more value to the team than many people realise. Yes, he makes mistakes, yes he’s not the best decision maker and he is by no means perfect, but with our midfield as it is, he’s crucial. A new defensive midfielder looks on the way in the summer which could spell the end of a long and successful Chelsea career for John Obi Mikel. He’s a man who holds the club very close to his heart and these bad performances by the team probably aren’t making him feel too happy either. He’s not the best defensive midfielder in the world but he’s the best we have at the moment, so lets support the guy and finally get off his back. It’s the least he deserves for his years of good service. No crap player is both a Champion of Europe and a Champion of Africa.