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Is this the end of Mikel at Chelsea?

Wednesday 21st September 2016
Nigerian midfielder, Mikel John Obi, is certainly one of Chelsea's most loyal stewards over the last decade. The 29-year-old who joined the Blues in 2006 from Lyn Oslo is just three games shy of amassing 250 appearances - making him the second longest-serving player in the current squad, behind skipper, John Terry.

However, the Super Eagles captain might just be approaching the twilight of his career at the club following his return from the 2016 Rio Olympics football event where he led his country to a historic Bronze medal.

Like a cat with nine lives, Mikel has survived eight full-time managerial changes at Chelsea, from Jose Mourinho's conquering first spell in 2006 to his awful second last term, the Nigerian overtime, finds a way of breaking into the squad of these managers' despite endlessly being described as average.
Since making his debut in the UEFA Champions League against Bulgarian club, Levski Sofia, aged 19, Mikel progressed to become an integral part of the west London side - displaying great tactical and technical artistry in the middle of the pack.

"With Claude Makelele leaving I was sure Mikel could be the player to play in his position in the future," former Chelsea coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, told the Sun in 2011. "When Makelele was here he was the one playing because he was the more experienced player. But now is the time for Mikel. I always pick him. He looks like he belongs in the position, knows more about his position and is a more experienced player."

Fast forward, five seasons after, the Blues no 12 still had a similar effect despite the club's abysmal title defence last season. Mikel featured 33 times with an unbelievable pass accuracy and tackle success of 89 and 68 percent respectively - scoring once.

β€œHe can recover his radar, he reads the game very well, he knows where the strength of the opponent is and knows how to combat that,” ex-Blues boss, Guus Hiddink said about the Nigerian. β€œHe has very good sense, he doesn't do it in a brutal way, he's very elegant. Someone who can defend so smoothly is very beautiful. I don't expect the decisive final pass from him – he can, but he can also let the other players play.”

Now with the Dutchman gone and Antonio Conte in charge, Mikel is facing his biggest test yet at Chelsea. He opted to represent Nigeria at last summer Olympics which made him unavailable for the first four weeks of the new season aside missing the latter stages of pre-season. However, since his return from the international break, Mikel has been unable to force his way into Conte's plans - highlighted in Tuesday's League Cup snub against Leicester City. And the form of summer signing, N'Golo Kante, might mean the Nigerian may have to wait even longer before making his first appearance this season.

The worst of them all is that the former Plateau United man is in the final year of the five year contract he signed in 2012 and admits an exit looms.

"I've been here for a long, long time. I've spent 11 years of my life in this football club, it is my home. This season is the last at the club if my contract ends. I am quite relaxed about it; the future looks good," the 29-year-old told Goal. "I am always open to a new conversation, a negotiation [with Chelsea] but if there's none, the future still looks bright. One day you have to move on. I think my memories here, my achievements here, are something that no one will ever take away from me.”

Will it be fair for Chelsea to let Mikel go? Or should the veteran be handed an extension?

We wait and see
Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 

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