John Mikel Obi was involved in one of football’s most incredible transfer tussles, but it happened to him very early, he was just 15 years old at the time.
It resulted in Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho scrapping to sign him, Barca waiting in the wings to take advantage of the deal — and ended with Chelsea paying Manchester United £12m in compensation.
Mikel Obi has now opened up on the real story, telling The Sun the truth behind the incredible squabble for his signature and how.
After a successful month-long trial at Manchester United, the talented midfielder looked like he was going to Old Trafford.
Mikel had earned his trial after starring for Nigeria in the Fifa Under-17 World Cup in Finland in 2003.
“I’ll never forget that second meeting with Sir Alex. I’d signed a deal at United but had to tell him: ‘Sorry, I want to play for Chelsea’.
“He really liked me but I could see how angry and disappointed he was.
“Some things he told me made me think about changing my mind but I was thinking about Jose, too.
“I had these two great managers wanting me and I did not know what to do.
“Fergie told me: ‘Why would you turn down United? It’s the biggest club in the world. You cannot do that. You have to say Yes’.
“I trained with the first team,” he recalls. “Roy Keane was my bodyguard.
“Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt always tried to kick me but couldn’t when Roy was there because he’d have killed them.
“Sir Alex called me Obi Wan (after the Star Wars character).
“He called me into his office one day and said: ‘Obi Wan, do you know what Keane, Scholes and all the senior players have told me? They said you have to sign that boy’.
His decision to join Chelsea in 2006 ultimately proved rewarding.
Mikel, 30, became one of the club’s most decorated players, winning the Champions League and Europa League, two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups in his 11 years there.
Mikel says United wanted him to return again — after the moth-long trial, but the call never came.
Mikel, who until that point had no agent suddenly got a call from John Shittu. He told Mikel Chelsea wanted to sign him.
So Mikel met him in Lagos before flying to London with three other Nigerian teenagers for a trial.
“I’d heard nothing from United so I agreed to go,” says Mikel. “I was training with Chelsea’s first team and then we were sent to Ajax Cape Town in South Africa.”
Mikel then signed Shittu as his agent and, after seven months, the player was moved to Norway, to train with Lyn Oslo — managed by ex-United star Henning Berg.
On turning 18, Mikel Obi signed a pro contract with Lyn Oslo, but after playing just half a dozen matches Fergie flew out to speak to him.
“The whole thing was so confusing,” says Mikel. “I thought I had something with Chelsea but United told me they had been looking for me and then Sir Alex visited me.
“He said: ‘We want you, we don’t want to lose you again’.
“Before I knew it, a contract had been sent to Lyn Oslo. United were offering me £1.5m for three years. I spoke to my dad, who told me I should just go for it.”
Mikel signed and at a hastily-arranged press conference in 2005 was photographed in a United shirt.
“Chelsea saw it on TV and went crazy,” he says. “I later discovered they had an agreement with Lyn Oslo not to sell me to any other club.
The news was all over Norwegian TV, with reports Mikel had been kidnapped. He had to convince his tearful girlfriend that was not the case — then a year-long legal battle ensued between the English giants.
“Jose told me: ‘The boss really wants you. I’ll play you and make you what you want to be’. That really helped as there were times when I thought: ‘Have I made the right decision?’.”
The whole crazy affair was resolved when Chelsea forked out £4m to Lyn Oslo and £12m compensation to United.