Pitchside Europe

Mourinho to finish the job he started with Mikel

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Juan Mata, it appears, doesn’t suit the system that Jose Mourinho wants to play at Chelsea. Oscar is the favoured number 10 and Mourinho has preferred options wide.

Although a player’s ‘game’ is made up of an indeterminable number of characteristics, managers tend to have a type of player. One that they feel they can rely on. In his first stint as Chelsea boss, Mourinho had Frank Lampard and John Terry as his lieutenants over the course of a 50 to 60 game season.

It has been argued on this site that this current Chelsea squad does not fit the requirements of their manager. There are too many flair players who are unable or - as indicated by Mourinho this week – unwilling to fulfil the manager’s will.

John Obi Mikel has the potential to become a Mourinho lieutenant, though.

Mikel is - or more accurately has become – a functional cog in the Mourinho machine that starves games of oxygen. Without possession he is aggressive; with it, simple in his passing. He wins the ball and moves the ball.

However, it has not always been that way. At the U-20 World Cup in 2005 Mikel missed out on the player of the tournament award to Lionel Messi. On first inspection, this is not outside the realms of possibility. Mikel is, of course, a fine player.

However, the manner in which Mikel came to prominence is, retrospectively speaking, quiet exceptional. He was Nigeria’s creator-in-chief as the ‘Flying Eagles’ surpassed expectations and made the final, to lose to Messi’s Argentina.

Prestigious alumni of that particular tournament include David Silva, Radamel Falcao and Ibrahim Afellay.

Such was the excitement surrounding the player, Manchester United had announced prior to the tournament that they had a deal in place to bring the talented playmaker to Old Trafford from Norwegian club Lyn. They were eventually gazumped by Chelsea.

The transfer wrangle became so acrimonious that Carlos Queiroz was quoted as claiming that the London club had effectively “kidnapped” the youngster. Such was the strength of feeling, United took their gripes first to the Premier League and then FIFA.

Eventually the dispute was resolved with Chelsea paying United £12 million and Lyn – the club for which he had played only six times – a further £4 million. Mikel, the playmaker, he of only six games in a European league, was valued so highly that Chelsea forked out £16 million to sign him.

Why, then, has it taken a creator of such calibre seven years to score his first Premier League goal for the club? Well, part of the answer lies with his first and current manager at Chelsea, Mourinho.

Mikel began life at Chelsea in his favoured position as an advanced midfielder. However, while deputising for regular holding midfielder, Claude Makelele, Mourinho liked what he saw. The 'Special One' liked his physical presence combined with incisive passing so much, in fact, that he converted him to a holder.

Mourinho left in 2007. While Mikel has never totally fallen out of favour, there has been a suspicion that managers since failed to truly understand – or appreciate - Mikel. Was he an attacking player or a defensive one? Or, worse, neither?

Certainly, his goal record suggests he is a defensive player and Mourinho sees him as such.

Having been reunited with a manager that believes in his capabilities as a deep-lying playmaker/holder, we may just be about to see why the battle between United and Chelsea to sign him had descended into such intense bitterness.

Mikel has all the attributes to dominate a midfield and, in fact, games. One of the many intriguing narratives of this Premier League season will be if the former youth sensation can finally fulfil that potential.

Marcus Foley | @mmjfoley

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