John Michael Nchekwube Obinna (born 22 April 1987), variously known as John Obi Mikel, John Mikel Obi or Mikel John Obi, is a Nigerian professional footballer who captains both English club Middlesbrough and the Nigeria national team as a defensive midfielder.
Mikel was born in Jos, Nigeria, as John Michael Nchekwube Obinna, the son of Michael Obi, who runs an inter-state transport company in Jos, the capital of Plateau State. As his father was a member of the Igbo ethnic group, “Nchekwube” means “hope” and “Obi” is a nickname for the Igbo name “Obinna” (meaning “Father’s heart”.
Mikel started his football career at the age of 12 when picked as a talented footballer from over 3,000 young talents to play in Pepsi Football Academy, a team that at the time was well known for travelling across Nigeria scouting young footballers with the potential to play professionally. Obi stood out to scouts and was later picked to play for top-flight club Plateau United, a side that had previously developed stars Celestine Babayaro, Victor Obinna and Chris Obodo, among others, that went on to success in European leagues. Later known as John Obi Mikel, he made headlines for his country at the FIFA Under-17 World Championships held in Finland. Following the tournament, he went on to a trial at South Africa club Ajax Cape Town, ultimately joining Oslo-based club Lyn Fotball in Norway.
During preparations for the 2003 FIFA Under-17 World Championships, the Nigerian Football Association (NFA) mistakenly submitted “Michael” as “Mikel” for the tournament in Finland. He decided to keep the new name, saying that it had a “special ring to it.” On 31 July 2006, he stated that he prefers to be called Mikel John Obi instead of John Obi Mikel, as he had most commonly been called.
In the summer of 2005, Mikel played for Nigeria at the FIFA World Youth Championships held in the Netherlands. He had an excellent tournament until Nigeria reached the final, where they lost 2–1 to Argentina. Obi won the Silver Ball after being voted the tournament’s second-best player.