The former captain of the Super Eagles, John Obi Mikel (as he’s popularly known among football fans) enjoyed a decade of success not just at Chelsea but also with the Nigerian national teams; right from under 17.
John Obi Mikel is one of the most decorated African player but only a few people actually know that he played all those years under a false name. Yes! you heard me right.
The height of his career will be winning the Champions League in 2012 with Chelsea as well as the AFCON with the Super Eagles a year later.
The story behind his name is fascinating. From an embarrassing mistake to a remarkable brand.
The drama started at the U-17 World Cup in 2003, where the Nigeria squad included Mikel, who was born under the name John Michael Nchekwube Obinna.
Michael became ‘Mikel’ thanks to a registration error, as a member of the association had given his name incorrectly, and that’s how it was subsequently printed on the player’s jersey. Funny, isn’t it?
The story behind this name remained unknown to many until the player, himself told the story years later on ‘Beyond the Game’ radio show.
“We had this tournament with the U-17 national team,” Mikel began, “and they spelled my name wrong.
“I saw it on the jersey and I was like: ‘What is that? It’s not my name.'”
However, since there were only 20 minutes to go until kick-off, the mistake could no longer be corrected.
“I played pretty well,” Mikel laughed. “Before the next game, they asked me, ‘Should we change the name?’ But I told them to leave it that way.”
So ‘Michael’ became ‘Mikel’.
He decided to continue playing with ‘Mikel’ on his back in the years that followed and even later officially changed his name to ‘John Obi Mikel’.
However, the saga didn’t end there.
In 2016, before Mikel moved to China, he again changed his name, with the midfielder this time taking the lead and re-organising his name as ‘Mikel John Obi’.
The aim behind this tweak was to restore Mikel as his given name—or Christian name—and to establish that John Obi are his second and third names respectively.
Mikel’s name won’t be forgotten in a hurry by football fans, especially Chelsea and Super Eagles fans; even if it wasn’t the right one.