The Very Strange Transfer Saga of
John Obi Mikel
The ongoing saga of Nigerian wonderkid John Obi Mikel's transfer from Lyn of Oslo in Norway to Manchester United is a story of intrigue
and the murky world of football agents.
Although the player would appear to have signed a contract with
United on April 29th a lengthy process of breaking that agreement
is underway - a process that is being carried out by a legion
of middlemen and agents, possibly on behalf of the richest football
club in the world.
Indeed amid allegations of bribery, player trafficking and - kidnapping"
it would seem highly unlikely that 18 year old Mikel will ever play
for the Old Trafford outfit. Soccerphile.com spoke to Daniel Fletcher,
Mikel's FIFA registered agent, in an effort to find out more …
Manchester United's two year long pursuit of John Obi Mikel began
with an invitation for the entire Nigerian under-17 squad to train
at their Carrington complex ahead of the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Youth
Championships. The Reds were the first European club to express
an interest in the player.
Indeed players and management alike were highly impressed by the
youngster but British immigration law and FIFA rules meant that
United were unable to sign the player at that time. Instead, the
club were to follow the progress of Mikel and then attempt to sign
him when he turned 18.
The plan hinged on whether Mikel had gained enough caps in order
to obtain a work permit. If he had, a transfer could take place,
if not United would have loaned him to Sporting Lisbon or Royal
Antwerp until a transfer was possible.
It was around the same time that Daniel Fletcher first spotted
the talent in the young Nigerian. Currently working with London
based Athletes1 - with which his former company 'Excel International
Management' recently merged - Fletcher's has a number of major
sports names on his books. He is also a man at the very heart of
the ongoing Mikel transfer saga. As Fletcher argues:
- Mikel had a great tournament in Finland," he says. - After
the tournament I pursued his signature aggressively but I obviously
did due diligence. FIFA regulations only allow one agent worldwide
for a footballer. I am Mikel's registered agent and the English
and Nigerian FAs countersigned the contracts. There cannot be another
registered agent because those FAs would not allow two agents to
have exclusivity with one player."
"At the time I signed Obi he was a minor. I got the signatures,
the agreement of his parents," Fletcher insists. Although the
family have subsequently claimed to have never met with him, Fletcher
maintains that the company's Nigerian office did and that a series
of phone and email communications sealed the deal. John Obi Mikel
eventually signed a two-year exclusive contract with him in July
It's a point that would later become central to the transfer of
Mikel from Lyn to Manchester United.
United had tried to get Mikel to the club on a scholarship contract
in the summer of 2003. Yet, even at this early stage in the saga
Mikel was an elusive man. "Nigerian players do come with a
reputation. I can't guarantee that he hasn't signed other exclusive
contracts. What I've said all along is that I did the appropriate
due diligence and that the contract he has with me is legal."
Indeed other agents including John Shittu and Jerome Anderson of
Sport Entertainment & Media Group (SEM), and Rune Hauge all
claim to have agreements of one form or another with the player.
United too were drawn into the saga early on. In the Spring of
2004 Mikel was due to join United on a "scholarship",
says Fletcher - a schooling that the player was never to fulfil.
As Fletcher adds, "Obi disappeared and it took months to track
him down. I eventually found him at Ajax Capetown in South Africa."
Disappearing was to become a John Obi Mikel trademark.
United did eventually get their man however. Mikel had already
joined Lyn on a youth contract by the time he turned 18 on April
22nd 2005. According to Fletcher, Autumn 2004 saw Mikel join Lyn
on the recommendation of United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had
trained with the player back in the summer of 2003.
In the week following Mikel's 18th birthday United began negotiations
with Lyn and the player over a possible transfer. Jim Ryan, United's
academy director, was charged with reaching an agreement with the
two parties. Despite the ongoing communications problems with the
player - Mikel has a - massive forcefield around him.
Every time I called somebody else answered the phone," says
Fletcher - Ryan was in Oslo just days after Mikel put pen
to paper on his first professional contract. It was almost two years
to the day since the player had first trained at Carrington. Indeed,
Mikel signed his first contract with Lyn on April 22nd and signed
for United just seven days later.
United had splashed out on a deal that with bonuses could have
been worth a Norwegian record fee to the club and around £10,000
a week to the player. Mikel eventually signed professional forms
with United on April 29th, with a transfer agreed for the end of
the Norwegian season in January 2006.
Mikel and United went on record stating their "delight"
with the transfer. The beamng player appeared on Norwegian television
sporting his number 21 shirt alongside Jim Ryan and Lyn's sporting
director Morgan Anderson. Something that Mikel would later claim
was forced upon him.
The Chelsea Connection
Chelsea has also been tracking the player during this period -
quite possibly after CEO Peter Kenyon moved from Old Trafford to
West London following Roman Abramovich's takeover at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea management were reported to be - furious" that they'd
missed out on Mikel. They had apparently paid £190,000 towards
Mikel's 'education'. It has since emerged that Mikel was just one
of four Nigerian boys for whom Chelsea paid Rune Hauge's TNG school
Norway is becoming a popular stepping stone for young players from
Africa who see it as an opportunity to work in a country that has
relatively lenient immigration laws. However, under Norwegian law
all minors must receive an 'education' to qualify for a visa. It's
also an opportunity for clubs from the major European leagues to
park players from Africa while they qualify for work permits.
Shortly after the transfer to United was announced Mikel claimed
to have received death threats from people "in London and Nigeria".
In the days that have followed it seems that the pressure placed
on the player may have come from groups who had a vested interest
in the player. Mike then disappeared on May 10th - leaving
a cup match between Lyn and Klemetsrud in the back of a car driven
by John Shittu. He was taken first not to his home in the suburb
of Bekkestua but to the Holmenkollen Park Hotel in Oslo by Shittu
and then on the 12th to London.
By the 13th Mikel conducted his first interview with Sky Sports
in which he claimed that he no longer wanted to join United, that
he'd been pressured into signing a contract, and that he wanted
to join Chelsea instead.
- Did you see the press conference with Jimmy Ryan and Obi in
Oslo?" There's a hint of disbelief in Fletcher's voice. -
Just compare the player then and what has been said since. He was
smiling, he was happy; he said it was a dream to join United."
Fletcher's been less equivocal in other media, accusing Shittu and
Anderson of pressuring the player into saying that he wants to join
Chelsea ahead of United. - I've had indirect contact with the player
through a very trusted source," says Fletcher. - I have every
reason to believe that Obi still wants to join United".
How then does Fletcher justify both the Sky Sports interview held
on May 13th by Obi in which he says he was forced to join United?
This was compounded on 20th of May in a bizarre telephone interview
held for BBC Two's Newsnight with investigative journalist Michael
Crick. - Just look at the Sky Sports interview. John is nervous,
every time the word 'agent' is mentioned he's looking around. He
Fletcher is even more dismissive of the Newsnight telephone interview.
Indeed many people in football now believe that the call was a fake.
- I told Michael Crick that all he had to do was call me,"
is Fletcher's response. - Anybody who has ever spoken to John knows
that he is softly spoken, he has quite a deep voice. The person
on the phone was excitable; he didn't even give any answers. I knew
straight away it wasn't him."
Indeed United were unequivocal in their condemnation of what they
believed to be Chelsea's intervention. Without mentioning the West
London club by name in the media United wrote to Chelsea, then the
FA and finally to FIFA.
Given that the player has a contract with both Lyn and United,
and Lyn with the Old Trafford club, Chelsea has little legal chance
of signing the player on the face of it. However, it would seem
highly likely that Chelsea will attempt to prove that Lyn did not
have the right to sign John Obi Mikel in the first place and therefore
didn't have the right to sell him; that indeed Mikel's original
contract was with TNG as Rune Hauge has already claimed on the record.
In the end Fletcher argues that FIFA will have to decide.
"I can tell you that United have a legal contract with the
player, that I have a contract with the player," Fletcher asserts.
"It will end up at the FIFA Player Status Committee but everybody
is putting off a decision. It could take months. The FA has washed
their hands of it. In the end somebody has to decide and it could
end up in court."
It could have serious consequences for the player too as a breach
of contract could lead to a FIFA ban of anything up to two years.
Indeed for a player who has only played three games in the Norwegian
League Mikel - or more realistically his advisors - are taking a
huge risk. For the time being Mikel remains with the Nigerian under-20
squad ahead of the World Youth Championships in the Netherlands
later this month.
United have jointly petitioned FIFA with Lyn and have the backing
of both the Nigerian FA and PFA. - It was at United's behest that
I put together the letter to FIFA" Fletcher says. It would
seem that Daniel Fletcher is still very much at the heart of a very
strange transfer saga.
- June 2003: Mikel and the Nigerian under-17 team are invited
to Carrington by United. Mikel trains with the United first team
- Spring 2004: Mikel fails to turn up to start his scholarship with
- Autumn 2004: Mikel joins Lyn Oslo on a youth contract
- Chelsea pay £190k to TNG through Rune Hauge; Mikel and three
other Nigerians join the school
- 2005: Mikel trains with Chelsea in London while 'studying' at
TNG school in Oslo
- April 22nd 2005: Mikel turns 18 and signs a pro contract with
- April 22nd-28th 2005: Lyn cancel contracts signed by Mikel as
- April 22nd-28th 2005: Chelsea enter negotiations for Mikel; the
bid is turned down by Lyn amid accusations of "arrogance"
on Chelsea's part
- April 22nd-28th 2005: United make bid for Mikel, which is accepted
- April 29th 2005: Mikel signs a professional contract with United;
a beaming player is interviewed on TV, complete with number 21 United
- April 30th-May 10th: Mikel receives 'death threats'
- May 10th: Mikel states on Norwegian TV that he is "delighted
with United move"
- May 10th: Mikel is taken by Shittu to a hotel; Lyn call the police
- May 11th: Mikel states that he no longer wants to join United
and that he'd been "forced into signing a contract" against
- May 12th: Mikel flies into London
- May 13th: Mikel conducts interview with Sky Sports in which he
claims to have been forced to sign a contract with United
- May 20th: Newsnight carry interview with Mikel, since proved to
be a fake
- May 24th: Mikel joins up with Nigerian U-20s ahead of the World
John Obi Mikel Factfile
Full Name: John Obi Mikel
Date of Birth: 22 April 1987
Born: Plateau State, Nigeria
Former Clubs: Lyn Oslo, Norway; Plateau United, Nigeria;
Pepsi Football Academy, Nigeria
Senior Games: Three
Internationals: Nigeria U-17s, U-20s
Recently included in the full Nigeria squad for the match against
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