Mikel Obi has some tough decisions to make when the transfer window opens in January as more European clubs have shown strong interest in the Chelsea outcast.
The Super Eagles captain has been frozen out at Stamford Bridge since the arrival of former Italy manager Antonio Conte in the summer.
Although he has yet to get playing minutes under Conte, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has kept faith with the 29-year-old midfielder, who has guided the Eagles to two successive victories in the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Nigeria snatched a stunning 2-1 away win over Zambia World Cup qualifying opener on October 9 in Ndola before subduing stubborn Algeria 3-1 in Uyo on November 12.
Despite Mikel rounding off a good performance with a goal in the defeat of the Desert Foxes, Conte was not amused as he has stuck with Frenchman N’Golo Kante and Serbian Nemanja Matic in the defensive midfield.
The Nigerian’s continued absence from the Blues’ lineup weekly set tongues wagging, but Conte has supplied the answer.
“The situation with Obi Mikel is simple, he’s in the squad. He stays with us. We know that, at the end of the season, probably his contract will expire,” Conte told reporters recently.
“But I don’t know what happens now. He’s a player who is part of this squad, and every single game I take my decision about him.”
However, Mikel has confirmed he is not on good terms with the former Juventus manager.
“I’m not that kind of person who wants to find excuses, nor I’m trying to escape my responsibilities.”
“People may think that Conte is angry with me because I did not take part in Chelsea’s pre-season training camp, but I wouldn’t swap my bronze Olympic medal with a starting spot in Chelsea’s XI. I do not regret to have played in the Olympic Games with my national team, it was a great honour for me,” Calciomercato.com quoted him saying.
Mikel, who has won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and Europa League since he joined Chelsea from Norwegian club Lyn Oslo in 2006, is expected to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer as a new offer is not forthcoming.
The South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winner arrived at Chelsea under a cloud of controversy. Manchester United had announced in 2005 that they had struck a deal with Lyn Oslo to sign Mikel on a four-year contract initially worth £4m.
However, Chelsea, under Jose Mourinho, later claimed that they had already had an agreement with Mikel and his agents.
The issue was resolved after Chelsea agreed to pay United £12m and Lyn Oslo £4m to terminate the contract Mikel signed with the Old Trafford side.
Mikel, who was a first-team player under Mourinho, Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, André Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benítez, is one of the players who have made headlines ahead of the January window.
He has been linked with a move to mega-rich Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua, Man United, Marseille, Besiktas, Galatasaray and Inter Milan.
Struggling French Ligue 1 side Marseille were reported to have succeeded in convincing Mikel to shun a big-money move to the Chinese Super League, who have reportedly offered the player a £70,000-a-week deal, to help revive the club. According to reports, Les Phoceens are ready to smash their wage structure to make the midfielder their highest-paid player (a £170,000-a-week deal) in a bid to lure him to Stade Velodrome in January.
Mikel’s agent John Shittu confirmed on Thursday a host of European clubs were interested in his client.
“It’s very likely he will leave Chelsea in January. There are many teams interested in the player,” Shittu was quoted by The Sun as saying.
“In the past we spoke with Inter Milan but now there are a lot of Italian clubs that want him. I will not reveal the names, but there are other Italian teams on his trail.
“And beware: the clubs in UK, Spain, Germany and even in China know the value of the player and requested information about him.”
After a torrid half season that has seen Mikel sidelined at Chelsea, a move is imminent in the transfer window, but he faces a difficult choice with a decision on his next destination – with many clubs interested in his services.