John Mikel Obi: I thought I would find out kidnappers had shot my father





Father’s kidnap was heartbreaking – Mikel

John Mikel Obi says he played in a World Cup match in 2018 for Nigeria not knowing if he would come off the field to find out his father had been shot.

The midfielder was told before facing Argentina that his father had been kidnapped for a second time.

Mikel, 31, reportedly paid 10m naira (about £21,000) for his release.

“I thought I was going to lose my dad, I thought he was going to be shot because of the demands and stuff,” he told BBC World Service’s Sportsworld.

“They said they would shoot him and in the back of my head during the game I thought that after the match I would probably find out they had decided to shoot him.

“It’s life. It’s made me stronger as a person. I can look at so many things and say ‘this is not going to shake me because I’ve been through worse’. I just hope that it never happens again and my dad can enjoy the rest of his life in peace.”

Mikel, now playing for Championship club Middlesbrough, found out while he was on his way to the St Petersburg Stadium for the World Cup group game in June that his father and his driver had been kidnapped at gunpoint in Nigeria.

The former Chelsea man said that he chose not to tell anyone what was happening as he wanted the players to focus on the game.

Mikel did not tell anyone, including Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr, about his father’s kidnapping until after the game against Argentina

“It was difficult for me. When I heard that it had happened it was heartbreaking for me, especially with the timing. I knew it would be traumatic for my dad,” he said.

“I didn’t say anything to anyone in the national team because I was the captain and I had to lead. It was my responsibility to lead the team and I wasn’t going to say I couldn’t play or have them thinking about my dad rather than the football. I took it on myself and held it in.

“It stayed in my head during the game and you could see afterwards how I felt.”

This month, Mikel’s national team-mate Samuel Kalu suffered a similar ordeal when his mother was kidnapped in the south-eastern city of Abia.

Mikel, who has not played for his country since the 2-1 defeat by Argentina in Russia, believes the country’s authorities need to do more to prevent it from happening again.

“I called Samuel when his mother was kidnapped and gave him my advice as someone who has been through it twice. I knew how he would be feeling. I was glad when his mother was released because you don’t want anyone going through that,” he added.

“I suppose these things happen every day with different families and obviously we want to see the authorities take more responsibility, but Nigeria is a very crowded place and you can’t manage the security.

“You go out and you don’t know if you will come back. The government need to look into it and they can do more.”

‘China not a place to go in your prime’

Mikel joined Middlesbrough in January after leaving Chinese side Tianjin Teda.

He had moved to the Chinese Super League in January 2017 after 11 years with Chelsea, with whom he won two Premier League titles and the 2012 Champions League.

Mikel described his time in China as “a great learning curve” and “an amazing time”, but believes the league is not a place for top players to go to during the best years of their career.

“The football is not like what we play here but they want to grow it. Will it reach the level of the Premier League? I don’t think so,” he said.

“For a young player I would not say go there at your peak. It’s a lovely place to go and obviously the financial aspect of it, but if you’re a young player at your peak then clubs in Europe will want you and pay you good money.

“You can go out there in your thirties… they call it retirement money! Just wait and win some trophies before you go there.”

You can hear more from John Mikel Obi on BBC World Service’s Sportsworld on Saturday, 23 March between 14:00-18:00 GMT.



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