Those three words are what I feel John Obi Mikel gives to any Chelsea team in which he plays. But as I write this, I know that many of you reading will be bubbling with anger and frustration. Never have I known a player to divide opinion amongst his own fans as the Nigerian midfielder does.
In the build up to the 3-0 Champions League win over Schalke 04, Ray Wilkins praised Mourinho’s decision to include Mikel. And he summed up the midfielder perfectly; saying that to the untrained eye he slows the play down and takes the pace away from the game, but to the players, managers, pundits and some fans he is a wonderful player to have in the team.
Those who dislike – some even hate – Mikel say he lacks pace in his passing and offers little, if anything, going forward. And for that I completely agree. But that is precisely what he is there to do. Despite being signed as an attacking midfielder (how that ever happened I will never know!), Mikel has been nothing other than a defensive midfielder – the one holding player that allows the more attacking and more technically gifted player to flourish.
His attributes don’t lie in the flicks and tricks and Mata, Hazard and Oscar. I’ve not seen anyone break up the opposition’s attacking play quite as well as he does since Claude Makelele’s days at Stamford Bridge. He provides structure and balance to a team that lacks any defensive mindset in midfield without him. Under pressure, with numbers around him is where Mikel really excels. In a tight, defensive spot with opposition players closing down, I wouldn’t want the ball to be at anyone’s feet other than Mikel. His ability (and strength) to hold off players and protect the ball is superb and following a pass, a potentially sticky situation is turned into a counter attack.
Of course, he is the type of player that isn’t needed it every single game. Most would agree when I say that we probably don’t need such a defensive minded midfielder in home games against the teams struggling to keep their heads above water at the bottom of the Premier League. But in the big games against quality teams with quality attacking players (especially in midfield) – the Barcelonas, the Real Madrids, the Bayern Munichs, the Manchester Citys – I believe John Obi Mikel is one of Chelsea’s most important players.