By Nizaar Kinsella*
The Chelsea midfielder has recently returned to London from a successful Rio 2016 campaign and was brutally honest about the extent of the problems he faced there.
John Obi Mikel has slammed the Nigeria Football Federation after he was forced to put up his own money to help his country achieve its bronze medal at Rio 2016.
The Nigeria captain organized travel, paid for meals and booked training pitches while trying to physically and tactically prepare for games.
The bronze medal, Mikel said, was his country’s only moment of glory during the Olympics amid the troubles he had in Brazil.
“I think if we talk about the money that I put into the team I think it was more than [$40,000],” Mikel told Goal. “But we just had to do it. I said to myself, ‘I won’t let this happen. If I can help, I’ll try to help.’ Sometimes there was no food, sometimes there was no pitch to train on, there was no bus to go to the training ground. So all of this was what me and the coach had to figure out, and get money together.
“I came to the camp. I sat down with the boys in Atlanta and I could see the frustration, the pain and the anger. Their aim was to play in the Olympics, their goal was to play in the Olympics. And for me being there and seeing what they are going through, they are young boys, they want to start their career and someone in the ministry is trying to crush that dream.”
Mikel and his Nigeria teammates’ problems began in the United States as they trained in Atlanta, where Nigeria won a shock gold medal in 1996 after a thrilling 3-2 win over Argentina.
He had to work closely on off-the-pitch arrangements with the Nigeria coach Samson Siasia and told of how, after problems with funding for the flights to the tournament, his team arrived only hours before its first game, which it remarkably still won against Sweden.
“There was just no flight provided by the Nigerian ministry,” he added. “We planned to leave three or four days before the tournament, but we ended up leaving the day of our first game. It was a difficult one. I don’t think I have ever seen something like that before — it was crazy.
“[After our last-minute flight] we got to the hotel, dropped our bags, grabbed some sandwiches, something to eat, a little bit of food, then headed straight back to the stadium because we hadn’t even done our accreditations then, so we had to go there and wait in the line, do our accreditation. It was absolutely hectic. I don’t know how we managed to go onto the pitch and win that game — it was absolutely mind blowing.”
The Chelsea midfielder appeared relaxed and happy after returning home to join up with Antonio Conte’s squad this week as the Blues prepare to face Swansea City on Sunday.
He was bursting with pride as he reflected on a successful tournament that culminated with a 3-2 bronze-medal match win over Honduras.
“Sometimes I wear my medal around the house, it gets my missus jealous,” he joked as he showed off his medal. “The kids love playing with the medal. I am sure one day they will know what this really means.
“We had lots of problems outside the pitch, but I always told the boys that you shouldn’t let that affect what we came here to do. We still want to achieve what we came here to do. We still have to represent our country and play for ourselves and our family and the people of Nigeria. So if the ministry don’t want to take responsibility, we have to make sure we play for ourselves and our country.
“The boys understand that and we made sure they went along with my message that I kept putting across to them every single day and we managed to achieve what we did achieve.”