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José gonna José: Are Manchester United really after John Obi Mikel?

Correction: are Manchester United really after John Obi Mikel again?

Chelsea v Manchester City - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Further adventures in attempting to make sense of the transfer market. Today, Chelsea midfielder and mooted Manchester United target John Obi Mikel!


Oh come along now. Jon Obi Mikel. Signed for Manchester United ten long years ago, back when Alex Ferguson was in charge, before deciding in vague and mysterious circumstances that he, unlike Elvis Costello, really wanted to go to Chelsea. The London club claimed to have struck a deal with Mikel's agents, and the player briefly went missing before turning up in London claiming to have been pressurised into signing for United. United, for their part, angrily denied doing anything untoward, and at one point Carlos Queiroz even accused Chelsea of being involved in kidnapping the player.

Eventually, Chelsea paid United £12m, which isn't a bad profit on a player who never made a single appearance for the club. There were rumours that as a youth he was an exciting, attacking midfielder, but he was quickly installed at the base of Chelsea's midfield and told him to start getting in the way of the opposition. Which he has been doing for ten years, with considerable success.

And United are interested?

Apparently so: most of the proper papers and all of the silly ones are going with it. Mikel's contract expires at the end of this season and he has so far failed to establish himself in Antonio Conte's hyperactive 3-4-2-1 formation. With Ngolo Kante and Nemanja Matic ahead of him in the picking order, it looks like he'll be moving on at the end of the season ... unless, that is, United make a cut-price swoop in January.

The purported logic behind the move seems to be that for all their midfield options — [deep breath] Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin, Daley Blind, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Bastian Schweinsteiger (technically), Phil Jones (theoretically), and Wayne Rooney (hilariously) — what United are lacking is a proper, dedicated destroyer. According to the Independent:

Mourinho’s interest in Mikel again is part of his plan to free Pogba from his defensive responsibilities by giving extra cover to the back four.

A cynic might suggest that at a time of great fractiousness and apparent unhappiness, Mourinho might just want to see a friendly face around the place.

Is he any good?

Well ... yes, for a highly specific and violently underwhelming definition of 'good'. He can definitely do his job, which is to sit in front of a back four, break play up, and move the ball on to somebody more exciting. And that might even be a very important job, depending on what the team's wider plan is. Ultimately the question is: does the interesting question of United's midfield, and what's wrong with it, have a profoundly boring solution?

Hey, don't look at us. We've got no idea. We thought Schneiderlin was going to be good.

Why this could happen

Chelsea don't want him, Mourinho knows and trusts him, his contract is winding down, and the prospect of Mikel in United's midfield is unlikely to send shivers up the collective spine of Stamford Bridge. It all makes an unusual/worrying (delete according to preference) amount of sense.

Why this won't happen

Well, Chelsea might decide that despite the 11-point and considerable style gap between the two teams, helping United out isn't a particularly good idea. Or that refusing to help them out might be quite funny. Either makes sense.

From a United perspective, the length of that list above might indicate that a little clearing out is required before anybody comes in. This could well happen — the papers reckon that there's interest in ten of United's squad players — but transfers are delicate and fragile things, and sometimes collapse for no reason at all.

Transfer rating

Exceptionally boring yet remorselessly logical, we give this one seven sideways passes out of ten. And we can think of literally no way to get excited about it. Perhaps this, finally, is the karmic retribution for that Eric Cantona?! moment all those long years ago.