Mikel Obi has become a starter for Chelsea since Jose Mourinho was sacked in December. Guus Hiddink replaced Mourinho on an interim basis and Mikel was one of the few players still at the club from when Hiddink did a similar interim job in 2009.
Obi, who scored a rare goal against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League last Tuesday, spoke about the atmosphere at Chelsea following the club’s 5-1 rout of Manchester City in the FA Cup fifth round.
In what looked like a dig at former boss Mourinho, Obi said the atmosphere at the club had changed because Hiddink “does not hold grudges” and treats players with respect. He added: “From day one, since Guus has come in, the atmosphere has changed. The players feel more relaxed, people know what their jobs are and people are getting on with their jobs in a more relaxed way. And in a way they can perform very well.
“He has given responsibility to people and expects them to thrive on it and make sure they do it in way where they feel comfortable. I think that is what the players are showing now.”
This has led to improvements in the form of players like Cesc Fabregas. Obi agreed: “It is fantastic to see Cesc playing well again. What an intelligent player. He is not the quickest but being, I wouldn’t say slow … but the way he plays, his intelligence is amazing. In training you think you will get the ball off him but because you are there, he knows what to do. As long as we can help him, to do the dirty work and get him on the ball, we have good chances. He is happy again as well.”
Many Nigerian fans, who remember Obi from when as a creative midfielder, he inspired Nigeria’s under-20s to second place in the Fifa World Youth Cup in 2005, coming second to Lionel Messi as the player of the tournament, must be disappointed that the Nigerian has been reduced to doing the “dirty work” for players like Fabregas.
A lot of Nigerian fans blame Mourinho for turning Obi from the potential heir to Jay-Jay Okocha as the creative hub of Nigeria’s midfield into a midfield destroyer that is now content to undertake “water-carrying” duties for others.