The transfer saga, which the John Obi Mikel signing turned in to, was a strange situation for the club to be in. For a player to go to such measures to ensure they didn’t fulfil their contract obligations to join Manchester United was rather bewildering. Granted, we’d only won the League Cup and came second to Chelsea in the league, but things couldn’t be too great for United if a Nigerian teenager was going to shun us.
At the press conference after signing with United, Mikel described the move as a “dream come true”, which added to the puzzling feelings when Chelsea’s involvement was announced. “I am pleased to get the chance to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world,” explained Mikel. “I’m looking forward to it. I am surprised that a big club like Manchester United wanted me. I had a contract with Lyn and not with Chelsea. I read about it in the papers, but haven’t heard from them.” He then went on to explain when he would join United, despite the news not being met too warmly from some quarters. “I will join Man United in January,” confirmed Mikel. “It’s a dream come true for me. Yes, I don’t have 75 percent of international games and that could affect my chances of getting a work permit but the club officials have assured me they will sort that out when the time comes. I have received messages and phone calls with threats from both Nigeria and England. I feel afraid.”
If this was the lad’s dream, why did he bend over backwards to get a deal with Chelsea?
Shortly after the transfer to United had been announced on April 29th, Mikel claims he received death threats from London and Nigeria. By May 10th, Mikel had disappeared by agent John Shittu. Three days later, a video interview with the youngster was all over Sky Sports News. He claimed he never wanted to sign for United, that he had been forced in to it, and that Chelsea were really his club of choice.
After a year with no football, Mikel finally joined Chelsea, with Roman Abramovich forking out a massive £16 million for the player, £12 million of that going to Manchester United. I felt strongly at the time that United should have pushed the case a lot further. This incident took place a few months after they had tapped up Arsenal’s Ashley Cole so surely some authority would have to act now that Chelsea had shown they couldn’t care less about the rules. This wasn’t to be though, United backed down, and took the money.
- June 2003: Mikel and the Nigerian under-17 team are invited to Carrington by United. Mikel trains with the United first team squad.
- Spring 2004: Mikel fails to turn up to start his scholarship with United
- Autumn 2004: Mikel joins Lyn Oslo on a youth contract
- Chelsea pay £190k to TNG through Rune Hauge; Mikel and three other Nigerians join the school
- 2005: Mikel trains with Chelsea in London while ‘studying’ at TNG school in Oslo
- April 22nd 2005: Mikel turns 18 and signs a pro contract with Lyn
- April 22nd-28th 2005: Lyn cancel contracts signed by Mikel as a minor
- April 22nd-28th 2005: Chelsea enter negotiations for Mikel; the bid is turned down by Lyn amid accusations of “arrogance” on Chelsea’s part
- April 22nd-28th 2005: United make bid for Mikel, which is accepted
- April 29th 2005: Mikel signs a professional contract with United; a beaming player is interviewed on TV, complete with number 21 United shirt
- April 30th-May 10th: Mikel receives ‘death threats’
- May 10th: Mikel states on Norwegian TV that he is “delighted with United move”
- May 10th: Mikel is taken by Shittu to a hotel; Lyn call the police
- May 11th: Mikel states that he no longer wants to join United and that he’d been “forced into signing a contract” against his will
- May 12th: Mikel flies into London
- May 13th: Mikel conducts interview with Sky Sports in which he claims to have been forced to sign a contract with United
- May 20th: Newsnight carry interview with Mikel, since proved to be a fake
- August 12th: FIFA rule Mikel is to return to Lyn until they can resolve the situation
- June 2nd 2006: Agreement between Chelsea, United and Lyn is formed to allow the player to join the London club
In Mikel’s first season at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea lost out on the title to Manchester United, just to highlight Mikel’s comical error. He missed a year of football and fought furiously to get a move away from the team that were crowned Champions.
In the 75 appearances he’s made for Chelsea, he has picked up a massive four red cards, one of those against Manchester United. He was booed every time he went near the ball, in the 32 minute stint he had on the pitch last September, and the Old Trafford crowd took great delight in singing ‘cheerio’ and waving to the player who had shunned us.
If you thought that was the end of the saga, you’d be wrong, as a court case is currently under way in Norway. The latest revelations suggest that Mikel always wanted to join United and cried on the day his Chelsea move was finalised.
Lyn director, Morgan Andersen, is facing charges of forging a contract, but has today spoken to reaffirm the belief that United really was a “dream move” for Mikel. “A number of clubs wanted to sign Mikel and I showed all the faxes to him,” he said. “He didn’t want to see them, because his mind was set on Manchester United. He was very happy when the deal was done and he wanted to go to United. Alex Ferguson said to me that Mikel would be the new Roy Keane and he was offered a contract that was even better than the one they gave Cristiano Ronaldo when he came to the club.”
Andersen spoke of a meeting between the club, Mikel, and his agent Shittu. “It was like meeting the Sopranos,” Andersen told Oslo city court. “In the meeting they behaved in a threatening way. We (Lyn) claimed we had the rights to Mikel but Shittu said we would regret the deal and Chelsea’s representatives didn’t agree. Soon after, Shittu took Mikel to the airport in Oslo and on to London. Mikel was crying and we didn’t see him for a long time after that.”
Who’s the blame for this situation?
Manchester United: We knew that Chelsea had invested a lot of money in to this young player, but when it was revealed that Chelsea’s bid for the player had been rejected, we pounced. Arguably not the behaviour of gentleman, but it would be hard to point the finger at United for any wrong doing.
Chelsea: If Chelsea had offered Lyn the money the player was worth, this situation could have been avoided. Lyn felt as though Chelsea were taking the piss, so decided not to sell to the London club. Why Peter Kenyon was playing silly beggers with transfer fees when he had Roman Abramovich’s money to spend is beyond me. (But then saying that, it was Kenyon’s ineptness with a transfer fee that cost us the Ronaldinho deal!) Chelsea knew we had a contract with the player and that was their time to back down. Frustrated, certainly, but they were too late, and United should have pushed the powers that be to ensure that Chelsea were punished appropriately.
Mikel: He was 19 when the deal with Chelsea went through, hardly a child or someone incapable of making up their own mind. Could and should he have put his foot down? Arguably, yes.
Shittu: Essentially, it is always going to come back to the agent. He was sniffing around looking for more money. When he realised that Chelsea were going to sort out more money for him, he did whatever he could to organise a deal with them, ignoring that Mikel had a contract with United. The cost of his greed was almost a young talent’s football career.
It would be interesting if we could get to the bottom of this situation but essentially it’s too little too late. No amount of answers can give Mikel that year of his career back or give United a player who was rightfully theirs. However, from a United perspective, I feel we now don’t have much to complain about. The £12 million Chelsea forked out for a player who never even kicked a ball for us paid for Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic. There is no doubting Mikel has shown himself to be a quality player, if not petulant and carrying a poor attitude, but now our midfield crisis has been solved with the signings of the ever impressive Anderson and Hargreaves, we are not left to rue the decision to allow Mikel to slip through the net.
The court case continues…