John Michael Nchekwube Obinna, born 22 April 1987, variously known as John Obi Mikel, John Mikel Obi or Mikel John Obi, is a Nigerian professional footballer who plays as a midfielder for Turkish club Trabzonspor. Born in Jos, he began his career with local club Plateau United, before joining Norwegian club Lyn at the age of 17 in 2004.
Mikel started his football career at the age of 12 when picked as a talented footballer from over 3,000 young talents to play in Pepsi Football Academy, a team that at the time was well known for travelling across Nigeria scouting young footballers with the potential to play professionally. Obi stood out to scouts and was later picked to play for top-flight club Plateau United, a side that had previously developed stars Celestine Babayaro, Victor Obinna and Chris Obodo, among others, that went on to success in European leagues. Later known as John Obi Mikel, he made headlines for his country at the FIFA Under-17 World Championships held in Finland. Following the tournament, he went on to a trial at South Africa club Ajax Cape Town, ultimately joining Oslo-based club Lyn Fotball in Norway.
During preparations for the 2003 FIFA Under-17 World Championships, the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) mistakenly submitted “Michael” as “Mikel” for the tournament in Finland. He decided to keep the new name, saying that it had a “special ring to it.” On 31 July 2006, he stated that he prefers to be called Mikel John Obi instead of John Obi Mikel, as he had most commonly been called.
In the summer of 2005, Mikel played for Nigeria at the FIFA World Youth Championships held in the Netherlands. He had an excellent tournament until Nigeria reached the final, where they lost 2–1 to Argentina. Obi won the Silver Ball after being voted the tournament’s second-best player.
In 2006, he made a controversial transfer to English club Chelsea after Manchester United claimed they had already signed him. He stayed with Chelsea for 11 years, before moving to China with Tianjin TEDA in 2017. After two years in China, he returned to England on a short-term deal with Middlesbrough, before joining Trabzonspor on a free transfer.
In July 2019, he said that the 2019 African Cup of Nations would be his last tournament for Nigeria. He retired at the end of the competition, in which Nigeria came third.