Mikel John Obi insists he left Chelsea for China to ensure his place in the Nigeria national team does not come under threat because of a lack of playing time.
The midfielder last week departed Chelsea after 10 successful years at the club, during which time he won every major club honour including the Champions League trophy.
Mikel had just five months left on his deal with the Blues and was wanted by several European clubs, including Valencia, Marseille and Inter Milan.
But after being offered a three-year contract worth about £140,000 per week at Chinese Super League club Tianjin TEDA, Mikel decided to make the move abroad although he insists it was to protect his starting spot in the Nigeria national team.
“I could easily have stayed in Chelsea for the remaining six months of my contract but it won’t be in the best interest of my nation, as they need me match fit when the World Cup 2018 qualifiers resume,” the 29-year-old is quoted by Owngoalnigeria.com as saying.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I seriously need matches to stay fit for Nigeria.
“Nigerians don’t deserve to miss out on the World Cup after back-to-back failure to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.”
Mikel did not make any of Antonio Conte’s matchday squads this term and, upon sealing his move to China, said: “I haven’t featured as much this season as I would have liked and at 29 I still have many years in the game ahead of me.
“With this in mind, I feel now is the time to seek a new challenge. I’m delighted to be joining Tianjin TEDA at a time that the Chinese Super League is really taking off.
“I look forward to helping Tianjin continue to grow both on and off the pitch in the next few years.”
By Vaishali Bhardwaj. This report was first published in the Evening Standard.