The Nigeria superstar enjoyed a decade of success in Chelsea’s midfield…but no one knew his real name.
John Obi Mikel is one of the most successful midfielders in the Premier League, but few people know that he played all those years under a false name.
Many fans are familiar with the 35-year-old, who was a Champions League winner with Chelsea in 2012 and clinched the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria in 2013.
However, the story behind his name is fascinating, with the Nigeria Football Federation originally registering the playmaker under a false name.
It 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.
He 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.
Mikel told the story years later on ‘Beyond the Game’ radio show.
“We had this tournament with the U-17 national team,” he 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.
The midfielder nonetheless retained ‘Mikel’ on his shirt at Stamford Bridge—a relief to those supporters who had invested in his name and number 12 on their shirts.
As well as his UCL glories, Mikel also won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the 2013 Europa League during his time at Stamford Bridge.
Since leaving West London, he’s represented the likes of Tianjin TEDA, Middlesbrough, Trabzonspor and Stoke City.
He’s been without a club since leaving Kuwait SC in 2021.
The 35-year-old’s name won’t be forgotten by Chelsea fans…even if it wasn’t the right one.