John Obi Mikel has revealed that he chose Chelsea over Manchester United in 2006 in order to facilitate the careers of three other young Nigerian players who had joined the club alongside him.
The midfielder looked set to move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2006, even posing in a Man United shirt publicly.
But he ultimately opted for a move to Stamford Bridge instead and went on to make 374 appearances for the club over three seasons, scoring just once in the Premier League during that time.
Writing in a piece for the Player’s Tribune, Mikel explained the reason behind making the tough decision to join Chelsea over Man United.
“My Dad wasn’t too pleased about what happened either,” he said. “He wanted me to go to Manchester United because he loved Alex Ferguson.”
“Back home in Nigeria, a lot of people were saying I should go to United because of how well they work with young players, whereas Chelsea just bought superstars.
“So … why did I turn down the biggest club in the world?
“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.”