If there was one certainty about this transfer window, it was that John Obi Mikel would leave Chelsea after 11 years in which he accumulated 11 different trophies.
What was not so certain – and even the player and his representatives did not know until the last minute – was where his next destination would be. There were no shortage of suitors, including some of Europe’s elite, but in the end the midfielder chose to take his talents to China, where he has joined Tia.
It’s the beginning of the end
At 29, Mikel is no young pup. Since breaking through as a senior professional in 2005, he has won almost every club title on offer: the Champions League, Europa League, Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield. All bar the Fifa Club World Cup.
At international level with Nigeria he has won the African Nations Cup, and recently captained his country to an Olympic bronze medal. He has also played at the World Cup and Confederation Cup. There is, quite frankly, little else for him to play for from a football point of view and this move represents the beginning of his career winding down.
There remains the possibility that the Nigeria captain might return to Europe to play out one or two more seasons, but it is doubtful that will be with a club at the top of the heap.
It should prolong his international career
One positive emerging from Mikel’s lack of playing time at Chelsea this season was his much-enhanced performances for the Super Eagles.
With fewer games in the Chinese Super League as opposed to the four-pronged assault that he has regularly faced in his decade with Chelsea, the midfielder might get more recovery time and be superbly placed to continue to give the same high levels of output to the Super Eagles.
The one drawback might be the lengthy flying time between Beijing and Nigeria, especially with a host of games coming up once a month between August and November.
But there is a workaround to be found. With less restrictions than European clubs, leaving a day earlier will afford the midfielder plenty of rest time to overcome the jet lag. That can only be good news for the Super Eagles, especially if he ends up leading the team to World Cup qualification.
It’s about the money
Less than two weeks ago, Mikel’s advisers told ESPN FC that all options would be considered, but that the “football project and family” would take precedence over money.
That has proved to be only half true. This was certainly about family. Taking care of both his young family, and his extended family back home in Nigeria for whom he has become the financial focal point.
It was certainly more about the money than any “football project” in China. He could have gone to Valencia, Marseille or Inter Milan if it was about football – but it seems none of those clubs were willing to match Tianjin’s reported offer of £140,000 a week.
Football is littered with players who can no longer maintain their former lavish lifestyles after their outlandish wages dried up, but Mikel is not prepared to go down that route and is obviously thinking post-retirement.
A year or two in China will boost his bank balance and, while the midfielder obviously wants a new challenge and the chance to play regularly once again, that’s what his choice of destination came down to in the end.