The imminent arrival of Benfica midfielder Ramires at Chelsea has caused much excitement amongst Chelsea fans. However, there is one player who probably won’t be welcoming the Brazilian to Stamford Bridge with open arms. That player is John Obi Mikel.
During the last few seasons, Mikel has displayed some of the potential that caused Jose Mourinho to shell out £16 million for the midfielder’s services after a long and protracted transfer battle with Manchester United. Injury to Michael Essien suffered during last season’s African Cup of Nations caused Mikel to be thrust into the starting line-up and the Nigerian put in some excellent performances in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield.
Mikel’s game is built around the accuracy of his short passing and his ability to break up play. While these attributes may seem inconsequential, they formed the base of many of successful attacks during Chelsea’s record breaking goalscoring season.
Last season served as something of a breakthrough for Mikel as he managed to eliminate most of the errors that have been hampering the progress of his game. He has cut out the lapses of concentration that caused him to needlessly give the ball away and has improved his disciplinary record, only receiving four bookings throughout the whole of Chelsea’s league campaign.
However, despite Mikel’s undoubted improvements, there is still more to come from the 23 year old and this season has to be the time for him to prove it. Mikel’s reputation has stemmed from his performances as a defensive midfielder but in order for him to challenge for a place in the starting line-up this season, he has to evolve into a more rounded midfield player.
This sentiment is echoed by Chelsea legend Kerry Dixon who has stated in no uncertain terms that Mikel must add more facets to his game or else risk being sold.
“We do not just want the ordinary player that will put in the normal shift. He has to be able to dictate and make splitting passes and also score goals… I believe that this is the season he has to fulfil all the promise that (Jose) Mourinho saw or else he should be let go at the end of the 2010/2011 season.”
Mikel need only look across at his midfield partner to see the type of player he could become. Michael Essien arrived at Chelsea primarily as a defensive midfielder but has since grown to become arguably the most complete midfield player in the Premier League.
To achieve this goal, Mikel needs to draw on his experiences of playing as a playmaker with the Nigerian national team and add it to his club game. Mikel has shown creativity and greater attacking verve in his role with the Super Eagles but has so far failed to incorporate these experiences into his role at Chelsea.
Mikel’s main problem seems to be that he is playing within himself. He has all the tools to be a fantastic player for the club but has maybe found the weight of expectation following his controversial move too much to handle. For Mikel to fulfil his potential, he has to shake off the shackles that have been limiting his game and display the potential that Mourinho saw in him, or else this season could prove to be Mikel’s last at Stamford Bridge.