The former Nigeria captain condemned the ongoing Turkish Super Lig, and could pay a bigger price than the termination of his Trabzonspor contract.
For better or worse, John Mikel Obi has always been highly opinionated.
It is the quality that made him such a good captain for the Nigeria national team for many years, and endeared him to the fans. It also, at various points, led to an uneasy relationship with the Nigeria Football Federation; his propensity to speak his mind and stand on principle came to be regarded as evidence of a lack of respect within a very gerontocratic culture.
This time, almost a year removed from his international retirement, he is once again suffering personal injury for speaking out in the face of administrative recklessness. This time, it is from club Trabzonspor, who took offence at his latest comments decrying the lack of sensitivity of the Turkish football authorities.
The backstory centres on the coronavirus, which the WHO has now labelled a pandemic, prompting leagues all over Europe to shut down.
High-profile personalities, including coaches (Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, for instance, was one of the first in the Premier League to test positive) and players alike (Callum Hudson-Odoi in England, Blaise Matuidi and Daniele Rugani in Italy, 35 per cent of the Valencia squad, several members of the Sampdoria squad, you could go on and on) have been hit by the virus, prompting the suspension of play altogether.
However, the Turkish Super Lig has ploughed on undeterred, initially bent on having fans in the stands before making a token concession and electing to play behind closed doors.
It is against this backdrop that Mikel took the Instagram to register his objection, stating he did “not feel comfortable…play(ing) football in this situation” and that “everyone should be at home with their families and loved ones in this critical time.”
“There is more to life than football,” he wrote.
Credit to him for saying what everyone else was thinking – Galatasaray striker Radamel Falcao agreed in the comments, and he cannot be the only one – but title-chasing Trabzonspor did not take kindly to what they apparently construed as a form of dissent.
Ergo: both parties’ decision to part ways. Any pretence of it being amicable is pretty much shattered by the fact that Mikel will receive no compensation, and agreed to forgo any other bonuses.
Beyond the satisfaction of being a martyr, and of once again sticking up for what he believes in, it is unclear precisely what direction Mikel’s career goes.
The former Chelsea man is still only 32, and his two daughters were born and raised in London, so a return to the England could well be on the cards.
While a career in the Premier League might be beyond him already (never the most mobile, more of his acceleration has been shaved off over the last couple of seasons), he did make a favourable impression during a six-month loan spell in the Championship in 2018.
Playing under Tony Pulis must be the most difficult brief for a midfield player, but Mikel managed to emerge with credit, leading Boro to within a point of a promotion play-off place. A similar sort of short-term deal would seem the likeliest avenue.
Ultimately though, it is a decision that might be taken out of his hands altogether.
As the virus over which he has beat a retreat from Turkey spreads, it is increasingly difficult to chart a timeline for the conclusion of the current football season and the resumption of the next. Already, the European Championship has been moved back to 2021, and the resolution modalities for leagues around Europe remain unclear. Mikel turns 33 in April, and has stated previously he is not interested in playing far into his dotage.
As it happens, the coronavirus may have put an end, not only to Mikel’s stay in the Super Lig, but also his active football career.