John Obi Mikel has lifted the lid on the “surreal” transfer saga which saw Manchester United and Chelsea battle for his signature.
Back in April 2005, the Red Devils announced that they had reached an agreement with Norwegian side Lyn for the then 18-year-old midfielder, with the Nigerian pictured in a United shirt at a hastily arranged press conference.
To win CL: Utd 12/1, Chelsea 22/1
Events were, however, to take a stunning twist as Mikel travelled to London to meet with Chelsea amid reports in Norway that he had been kidnapped.
With a fresh deal thrashed out with the Blues, a side then managed by Jose Mourinho ended up having to pay Premier League rivals United £12 million in compensation as Sir Alex Ferguson and a dominant force in English football at the time were left empty-handed.
“It was surreal,” Mikel told The Sun.
“I was at school, but had Chelsea and Manchester United, two of the world’s biggest clubs trying to sign me.
“I’ll never forget that second meeting with Sir Alex. I’d signed a deal at United but had to tell him: ‘Sorry, I want to play for Chelsea’.”
Mikel admits that Ferguson initially refused to accept his United snub and continued to fight for his services, but the midfielder had already taken the decision to favour Mourinho and Stamford Bridge.
He added: “He [Ferguson] really liked me but I could see how angry and disappointed he was.
“Some things he told me made me think about changing my mind but I was thinking about Jose, too.
“I had these two great managers wanting me and I did not know what to do.
“Fergie told me: ‘Why would you turn down United? It’s the biggest club in the world. You cannot do that. You have to say Yes’.
“As a footballer, you have to make decisions that you live with for the rest of your life.”
Mikel saw his decision vindicated by a productive 11-year stint with Chelsea.
He made 374 appearances for the Blues, with those outings seeing him collect two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, the Europa League and Champions League.
Mikel eventually left west London in January, as he completed a switch to Chinese Super League side Tianjin TEDA, with the 30-year-old departing as a cult hero with his own piece of remarkable transfer history.