Friday, May 18, 2012

Mikel: I can’t wait to play

NIGERIA international Mikel Obi prepares for the biggest game of his life against Bayern Munich on Saturday, he will go through his normal pre-match routine and pray.

Many people might think Chelsea needs some divine intervention in the Champions League Final if they are to get the better of a side blessed with talents such as Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

At times it has appeared Chelsea have been getting a helping hand from elsewhere as they have progressed through the competition but Mikel’s development is all his own work.

The Nigeria international has been at the club for so long — he is just finishing his sixth campaign since joining from Lyn Oslo in Norway — that some may believe he stands alongside Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba as one of the veterans of the squad.

However, Mikel is still only 25 and his best years are still in front of him despite already boasting six winners’ medals from his time at Stamford Bridge. Ostracised by Andre Villas-Boas, he has played a key part in Chelsea’s upturn in form since Roberto di Matteo took charge in March and restored him to the starting line-up.

Mikel will acknowledge there is room for improvement but has already shown that he is capable of learning from his mistakes.

In his first two seasons he was sent off four times and became one of those individuals in danger of earning a reputation for all the wrong reasons.The fact he hasn’t seen red since 2008 says it all and anyone who witnessed the assured shield he provided for Chelsea’s back four when they were down to 10 men in the Nou Camp three weeks ago would have to acknowledge his growing maturity.

It is something he will need to display in the heat of the Allianz Arena, too, with skilled midfielders like Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller attempting to prise open Chelsea’s defence. But he feels ready for the challenge in front of the watchful eyes of Portugal’s Pedro Proenca, who will referee the final.

He said: “You have to maintain the will to win at all times but also stay calm. If you know how to manage these two things together, it makes your life in football — as well as outside of football — very much easier.

“It’s something that over the years I have learned to manage. When you play in the role I play and after the first two years you have got four red cards, you can’t keep going like that.

“You have to sit and think and look at what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right. So, I looked at that aspect of my game and I saw that I really needed to watch the tackles that I went into. Sometimes, it’s not just about going in for tackles, it’s about knowing how to win the ball without having to go in for those challenges.

“Now, I tend to be closer to the ball so I can win it more easily, to pressurise instead of making those silly tackles I used to make when I first came.

“It feels like I’m getting older but it’s great to have been here at Chelsea this long. I have been here for six years — a lot of people have seen me grow and I want to stay longer to help this club win more trophies. Going to the Champions League Final is going to be something else and beating Barcelona to get there was just incredible.”

Mikel does at least have one less thing to worry about as he prepares for the second Champions League Final of his career in that his place in the team should be assured this time.

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