John Obi Mikel: Why did he play under a false name?
The Nigerian superstar enjoyed a decade of success in Chelsea 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 these years under a false name.
Many fans know the 35-year-old, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012 and lifted the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria in 2013.
However, the story behind his name is fascinating, with the Football Federation of Nigeria originally registering the playmaker under a false name.
It started at the U-17 World Cup in 2003 where the Nigerian squad included Mikel who was born as John Michael Nchekwube Obinna.
It became ‘Mikel’ thanks to a registration error, as a member of the association had given his name incorrectly, and this is how it was later printed on the player’s shirt.
Mikel told the story years later on the “Beyond the Game” radio show.
“We had this tournament with the U-17 national team,” he began, “and they misspelled my name.
“I saw it on the shirt and I was like, ‘What is that? That’s not my name.'”
However, with only 20 minutes left until kick-off, the error could no longer be corrected.
“I played pretty well,” Mikel said with a laugh. “Before the next game, they asked me: ‘Should we change the name?’ But I told them to leave it like that.”
So ‘Michael’ became ‘Mikel’.
He decided to continue performing with ‘Mikel’ on his back in the years that followed and even later officially changed his name to ‘John Obi Mikel’.
However, the saga did not end there.
In 2016, before Mikel moved to China, he changed his name again, with the midfielder this time taking the helm and revamping his name to ‘Mikel John Obi’.
The objective behind this modification was to restore Mikel as his first name – or Christian name – and to establish that John Obi are his second and third names respectively.
The midfielder nevertheless retained ‘Mikel’ on his shirt at Stamford Bridge, a relief to supporters who had invested in his name and the 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 has represented Tianjin TEDA, Middlesbrough, Trabzonspor and Stoke City.
He has been without a club since leaving Kuwait SC in 2021.
The 35-year-old’s name will not be forgotten by Chelsea fans…even if he was the wrong one.