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about 3 years ago Update 0 comments
He's does a lot of the things that don't show up on the stat sheet and it's not just silly stuff 'hustle.' He's also an above average passer and ball-handler, especially for a defensive-oriented player.
If you root for Manchester United, you probably already hate him. The Nigerian national originally committed to playing for the Red Devils -- even donning a jersey at a press conference -- before claiming he was coerced into signing that contract. He eventually ended up with Chelsea, where he earned a reputation as a slacker and a bit of a loose cannon.
At just 23 years old, he's already developed a history of questionable personal decisions. He's skipped numerous assignments to his nation's U-23 team and been left off the Olympic team as a result, regularly been cited for missing practice or showing up late and that's not even getting into the whole saga that surrounded his arrival in the Premier League.
Still, he's got obvious talent. He shuts down opposing offenses, then shows off impressive dribbling skills, flashes some nifty passes and even scores the occasional goal. Regardless of what you may think of him, he's someone that has to be accounted for by opposing teams.
Club Teams: Chelsea (2006-present), Lyn Oslo (2005-06)
National Team Debut: Aug. 17, 2005
World Cup(s): none
His senior career started out with Norwegian side Lyn Oslo, but he only played six games there before signing with Manchester United, which he later claimed to have been done against his will. The real-life soap opera ultimately ended when Chelsea agreed to pay more than $20 million to Lyn Oslo and United for Mikel's services.
Mikel quickly earned a reputation as someone who partied hard and didn't take team rules particularly seriously. He eventually cleaned up his act, though, and won over his coaches with solid play.
Over the next two seasons, he continued to improve and ultimately earned a part-time starter's role in 2008-09 (filling in for Michael Essien), and signed a five-year extension.
Mikel was on the national team radar for most of his developmental years, appearing on the U-17 and U-20 teams. He even won the FIFA U-20 World Youth Championships Silver Ball, given to the tournament's second-best player (Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball).
He made his senior team debut shortly after, against a friendly with Libya, but didn't appear with the national team again until the 2006 African Cup of Nations. His stance on the national team has, at times, been jeopardized because of his skipping games and refusing to play in other U-23 contests.
When he's played, though, he's been very good, even if he hasn't entirely lived up to expectations. He's shown more of a willingness to join the attack for the national team and has scored several goals.
Although incidents like his 2009 drunk-driving charge continue to haunt Mikel, he's a player that is a real breakout candidate. His career has mostly been filled with just enough highlights to keep people talking about him, but enough head-scratchers to keep people doubting him.
Mikel is a force to be reckoned with and if he's properly motivated -- you'd like to think playing in a World Cup on his home continent would do the trick -- he has a very real chance of being a difference maker for Nigeria, for better or for worse.
Expect him to harass opposing offenses, draw a yellow card or two, make an ill-advised pass and do something absolutely memorable with the ball at his feet.
Jeremiah Oshan dreams of one day writing about Mikel at Sounder at Heart, our SB Nation Seattle Sounders blog, where he is a regular contributor.