John Obi Mikel has lifted the lid on why he chose Chelsea over Manchester United 12 years ago.
Sir Alex Ferguson thought he had won the race for the talented Nigerian’s signature in 2006, and he was even pictured in a United shirt, only for him to join Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge instead.
And the 31-year-old has revealed that he made the move to the Blues in order to help some of his countrymen find a club.
Speaking to the Players’ Tribune, he wrote: ‘I know what you’re thinking.
‘So before I tell you my story, let’s just get that bit out of the way first. It’s been more than a decade and I still get asked this one thing about my time in England.
‘”Hey, what happened to you signing for Manchester United? How come you swapped for Chelsea at the last minute?” Every time.
‘I’ll tell you what happened. I had all these people on both sides fighting over me. Agents, managers, strangers, guys handing me papers. I had Sir Alex Ferguson calling me on the phone on one side.
‘And I had Roman Abramovich on the other side, putting me up in London, hiding me somewhere where only a few people knew where I was. It was really confusing, and I was a kid, you know?
‘After a while, someone from FIFA gave me a phone call. They said, “Listen, we know you’re young and you have these two clubs fighting over you. We can’t decide for you. You can only go where you want. You have to tell us.
‘I thought about it for a long time. It was the biggest decision of my life.
‘You know what made my mind up? Chelsea had signed three other players from Nigeria along with me. They were staying with me at the house in London to keep me company.
‘These guys… their lives depended on the decision I was making. If I went to United, they were gone. If I went to Chelsea, they were going to have a career.
‘No matter how long it lasted, that was important to me. Just to give them a chance, you know?
‘I chose Chelsea, and four lives changed that day.’
Mikel signed for United from Lyn Oslo in April 2005, but the move was never finalised after he claimed that he had been ‘bullied’ into the deal and wished to join Chelsea instead.
Chelsea agreed to pay a £12m compensation package to United to allow the move to go through.
Mikel spent over 10 years at Stamford Bridge before leaving in January 2017. He lifted two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League in 2012.
Read the full account from John Obi Mikel at the Players’ Tribune