Captain of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, John Mikel Obi has recounted his experience in 2005 shortly after emerging as the Silver Ball winner at the U-20 World Cup that year.
Mikel had been reported to have signed for Manchester United, before the midfielder changed his mind and headed for Stamford Bridge after what he described was a ‘military operation’ by Roman Abrahamovich.
“I had agents promising me everything,” Mikel told The Sun. “One approached me in the hotel with a briefcase full of cash.
“I can’t remember what club he claimed to represent – but I do remember the briefcase. It was crammed with $70,000 and he offered me that to sign some contract before adding: ‘Sign here and you’ll get a lot more’.
“I was tempted. I’d never seen so much money but I told the Nigerian FA secretary who was looking after me.
“He told me to ignore this agent but promised I would join the best club. After the tournament, I went home to my family and then saw the secretary again in Abuja.
“That’s when he told me: ‘You’re going to United. They want you and you’re leaving tomorrow’. My dad was so happy but mum was crying because I was moving abroad at such a young age.”
Mikel went on to state how he turned down former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to sign for Chelsea.
“He (Sir Alex) would call me into his office after training, point at the players’ plush cars in the car park and say: ‘If you work hard, next year you’ll be driving one of those. You are going to play for this club and you are going to be rich.’”
United did sign Mikel after senior players like Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs had urged Sir Alex Ferguson to get the Nigerian teenager after a one-month trial, according to the Daily Mail.
But Chelsea eventually changed his mind after a ‘military operation’, although the Blues had to pay United a £12m compensation.
”Roman Abramovich organised six cars to get me there. It was like a military operation,” Mikel told the Sun.
“I started in one car, then the drivers would talk to each other and suddenly I was dropped off and then picked up by another car.
“Once there, Jose Mourinho told me: “The boss really wants you. I’ll play you and make you what you want to be”. That really helped as there were times when I thought: “Have I made the right decision?’” Mikel added.
While the tussle between the two Premier League rivals was ongoing and preventing Mikel from playing, another big club was waiting in the wings.
“I had Barca waiting to pounce if the legal wrangle couldn’t be sorted, but felt obliged to sign for Chelsea as they’d looked after me,” Mikel revealed.