Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Obi the Lonely Has the End in Sight; the Man at the Heart of the Desperate Dispute between Manchester United and Chelsea Just Wants the Chance to Play Football Again, Writes Leo Spall

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Obi the Lonely Has the End in Sight; the Man at the Heart of the Desperate Dispute between Manchester United and Chelsea Just Wants the Chance to Play Football Again, Writes Leo Spall

Article excerpt

Byline: LEO SPALL

JOHN OBI MIKEL may still have a couple of months to go, but he cannot wait to get out of Norway.

Holed up in the plush Oslo hotel suite which is his home, friends say the 18-year-old is counting the days until he can leave the city for good.

Now one of the world's most talented young players, he will not look back on his experience in one of football's backwaters with fondness.

On the part of the locals, although he was once revered by fans at Lyn Oslo, Mikel's exit will be accompanied by mutterings of good riddance.

Six months of eventful wrangling over his future have taken their toll and when his name was read out among the contributors to the club's third-place league finish last weekend, it was jeered.

Manchester United and Chelsea have effectively been fighting over him since April and, as they prepare to meet at Old Trafford on Sunday, his destination is in FIFA's hands.

Mikel signed a contract to move to Old Trafford but then claimed he was coerced and wanted instead to move to Stamford Bridge. All parties are still waiting for FIFA to set a date for a verdict but they all acknowledge it will be critical.

In the meantime, the fallout has been ugly, with allegations of dirty tricks and neither side prepared to give an inch on a player who promises to be one of the most valuable around.

But with lawyers, agents and badly chosen words also infecting Mikel's world, his team-mates are concerned about the long-term effects.

Lyn Oslo's former Southampton striker Jo Tessem said: "We are worried for him because we have noticed that he has not been happy and everything is not as it should be.

"The supporters used to come to watch him because he has an extreme talent.

"He is like Wayne Rooney but in a different position. He is already well developed athletically, with speed and amazing technical ability.

"He can be a big star and in England you are used to that, but in Norway they like their players to be down to earth.

"Mikel knows he is good but there has generally been so much about him and his situation in the newspapers and on television, people are fed up with it and want an end to the episode.

"We hope it is sorted out quickly for Mikel. He is quite a strong character but something like this could slow down his development."

The moment things really turned for the teenager was at the end of September when he tore into his team-mates in a Norwegian newspaper interview.

He angrily accused them of jealousy and probably a whole lot more, but the paper censored much of it for his own good.

Unfortunately for Mikel, he is no Roy Keane yet and the outburst turned both players and fans against him.

His Lyn Oslo team-mates confronted him at their training ground and presumably Mikel learned a valuable, and perhaps necessary, lesson in humility. …

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