It is no longer news that Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel’s 10-year association with English giants Chelsea has finally come to an end with the player moving to Tianjin TEDA in the Chinese Super League.
Tianjin TEDA won the Chinese FA Cup in 2011 and are presently keen on improving their 11th place in the 16-team division. That’s presumably why they’ve gone for the 2012 UEFA Champions League winner.
The player will be joining a long list of African stars plying their trade in the Far East. Topping the list is Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan who played in the English premier League with Sunderland but is now part of Shangai SIPG. Ivory Coast’s Gervinho is another high-profile African in the CSL. He plays for Heibei China Fortune after stints in Europe with Arsenal, AS Roma and French club Lille.
Some see the move as the end of era for a player who promised so much when his career kicked off in 2005.
Mikel will also be in the midst of a couple of his compatriots as former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins is with Shanghai Greenland Shenhua while Anthony Ujah formerly of Bundesliga’s big timers Werder Bremen now appears for Liaoning Whowin.
Across Africa, and especially Nigeria, Mikel’s transfer has elicited a wide range of discussions. Some see the move as the end of era for a player who promised so much when his career kicked off in 2005. Others are of the opinion that the move is good for him because the Chinese top flight is on the way up.
One of those who believe the transfer to China is a no brainer is former Nigerian international and Ajax Amsterdam star Tijjani Babangida who once played in the country and says the CSL isn’t given as much respect as it deserves.
‘In my opinion, Mikel made the right move because firstly, he’ll have more playing time with Tianjin TEDA and secondly the Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr has assured him of a place in the Super Eagles which makes it more beautiful for him.’
‘People do forget that after my fairytale adventure with Ajax, I also moved to Changchun Yatai in China afterwards and I was one of the few foreigners at the time. Even at that time (12 years ago) one could see that the league will become massive and I strongly believe it will grow bigger in the next five years,’ Babangida said.
The other source of concern for Mikel is that players like Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi and Asisat Oshoala (all England based) all lined up to collect awards at the annual Confederation of African Football gala night in Abuja yesterday. But the former Chelsea midfielder might not get such a chance as the Chinese game isn’t popular across Africa and most people don’t pay attention to it.
Speaking on that particular issue, football analyst and publisher of wolexis.com, Wole Odeyemi says it will be a long time before Africans take notice of Chinese football despite the millions being splashed around to bring in big names as the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga are so far ahead at the moment.
‘The truth is, the average football follower in Africa will mention at least ten of the two teams in the English Premier League with no stress but doesn’t know any of the teams in China, it will take time, maybe in the next ten years things will change.’
I believe Mikel, at the age of 29, still has a lot to offer. And with massive experience at the top of global football in Europe, Tianjin TEDA might have just gotten themselves a bargain considering his reported £140,000 weekly wages.