Former Chelsea midfielder and ex-Super Eagles captain, John Mikel Obi, has opened up about the circumstances that led to his departure from the English Premier League side in 2017, citing a strained relationship with then-manager Antonio Conte as the pivotal factor.
In a recent episode of the Vibe with Five podcast, Mikel disclosed that his decision to leave the club was directly linked to Conte’s arrival and the subsequent events that transpired. He recounted a pivotal moment when Conte, upon taking charge, made it clear that Mikel and his compatriot Victor Moses would jeopardize their positions at Chelsea if they chose to represent Nigeria at the Olympics.
Mikel revealed that Conte explicitly informed him that participating in the Olympics would result in his exclusion from the Chelsea squad, as the new manager prioritized the club’s interests over individual players’ international commitments. Despite the ultimatum, Mikel encouraged Moses to remain at Chelsea while he ventured to the Olympics with Nigeria. Upon his return, however, Conte relegated him to the reserve team, effectively signaling the end of his tenure at the club.
“Conte was the reason why I left [Chelsea],” Mikel declared during the podcast. “Once he came in, he was like, ‘You’re not playing anymore.’ Then I left. Obviously, when I saw Conte coming into the club, I was like, ‘My time here is done.'”
The Nigerian midfielder continued, “The only reason is when he came in, me and Victor Moses and we got invited to the [Nigerian] national team for the Olympics. So, I had a conversation with the club and he [Conte] said, ‘If you go, you’re not playing anymore for the club. Because I’m a new manager, we need to think about the club.'”
Mikel emphasized that he felt compelled to represent his country at the Olympics and chose to prioritize this opportunity despite the potential repercussions on his Chelsea career. He recounted, “I’ve been invited to represent the country at the Olympics. And he was like, ‘Yeah, but if you go just know that your time here is done.'”
In a display of solidarity, Mikel urged Victor Moses, who was relatively new to the club, to remain at Chelsea. He explained, “I said, ‘I’ve been here a long time. I’ve won everything that I needed to win. You’re just coming, so you should stay.’ And he accepted. So, Victor stayed and I went. After the tournament when I came back, that was it. He [Conte] never spoke to me. He sent me to the reserve team. I was training with the reserves. Then I started training alone for a while. For like six months I did this.”
Following this tumultuous period, Mikel eventually made the decision to depart from Chelsea in 2017, joining the Chinese side Tianjin TEDA.
The revelation by Mikel Obi sheds light on the complexities and challenges faced by players navigating the demands of club management and international commitments. Mikel’s candid account provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of player-manager relationships and the difficult decisions professional athletes are often forced to make.
Mikel’s story serves as a reminder of the intricate balance between club loyalty and national pride, offering insight into the sacrifices and difficult choices that players encounter throughout their careers. His experience underscores the significance of open communication and mutual respect between players and managers, highlighting the potential consequences of strained relationships within football clubs.
The impact of Mikel’s departure from Chelsea reverberates through the lens of football history, marking a pivotal moment in the club’s evolution and serving as a testament to the enduring complexities inherent in the sport.
As Mikel Obi’s revelations continue to reverberate throughout the football community, his story stands as a compelling narrative of perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity, leaving an indelible mark on the fabric of the beautiful game.