The past decade has been one of near-constant success for the Chelsea, with plenty of trophy-laden seasons that include domestic and European success.
But for all the glory of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry, there is one man that was there quietly going about his business. Often criticised or maligned for not being Claude Makelele, maybe simply being yet another player underappreciated by the English public for doing the basics well:
John Obi Mikel is a champion, an underappreciated champion.
Undervalued by Blues fans
There was something strange that always struck me when it came to Mikel. His time at Chelsea spanned from 2006-2017, a period that includes four Premier League titles, a Champions League title, a Europa League title, several FA Cups and the odd League Cup.
Many Chelsea fans would speak their opinion of Mikel: usually that he is not very good or what does he do?
Successive managers’ faith speaks volumes
I generally have a rule. Although we like to think we know better than most football managers, they are the experts. So they probably know something we mere mortals are missing.
The revolving door of managers changed a lot over the years, but one thing very few of them wavered from was picking Mikel alongside Terry and Lampard. For me, this was always the signal he must be a quality player.
From Mourinho to Ancelotti to Di Matteo, they all kept picking Mikel. Players would come and go but Mikel would stay and he would play. Which is more than can be said for a lot of Chelsea signings.
You must have something about you to survive in the Chelsea first team for ten years; most last two before heading out on an all-expenses-paid holiday or, as the officials call it, a ‘loan deal’.
Quietly assured on the ball
No, he didn’t score from 25 yards or hunt down Cristiano Ronaldo, but Mikel quietly went about running a winning midfield. His defensive ability was not showpiece, like Makelele or Matic who would garner applause, but more subtle easing the play into safer areas of the field.
The thing many missed in his game was his ability to look after the ball.
Generally, that is something that is not a forethought in the English game. Look back at his stats, and you will see him topping the charts for pass completion across Europe. Selflessly ushering the play and the ball towards the ‘showpiece’ players. He picks up the ball and delivers the short pass; the one that doesn’t seem to mean anything, but strung together over a decade, they create the tapestry of a serial winner.
The underappreciated champion or the selfless champion: John Obi Mikel.