Former Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel has praised Michael Essien for sticking by him during his early years at Chelsea, Goal.com reports.
Mikel met the former Black Stars midfielder in Jose Mourinho’s team in 2006, and he remembered the role his African teammate played in helping him integrate quickly into the first team.
The Super Eagles legend went on to spend the majority of his 11-year career at Stamford Bridge, where he played 249 Premier League games with a goal and 10 assists.
Mikel, who was initially taken aback by the calibre of his teammates, explained how Essien encouraged him to dominate the Blues’ midfield.
“Suddenly, I was sharing a dressing room with all these players I had watched on television back in Africa,” Mikel told The Athletic. “I was sitting next to Lassana Diarra. I’d be there thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s Didier Drogba. It’s Frank Lampard. It’s John Terry’.
“Michael Essien (who joined from Lyon in the summer of 2005) helped me. Michael always told me I was a good player and just reminded me to bring the ball down, control and pass. If you need to dribble, dribble. If you don’t need to, just pass. You are strong. You are fast, too. If you can, just push the ball past and run, run, run because they cannot catch you.
‘” He was the guy who helped me and made me have a lot of confidence.”
The former Nigeria midfielder, who currently plays for Kuwait SC in the Kuwaiti top flight, reveals how his move to Chelsea came about despite offers from Manchester United.
“They were speaking to me every day saying, ‘Sign for United, sign for United’, and there was the contract in front of me,” Mikel continued. “But Chelsea made it clear they weren’t going to give up. They wanted me back.
“I had been sent by Chelsea to play there because I was not 18. I was from Africa and needed to play a certain amount of games (to get a permit).”