Conte thinks I don’t care about Chelsea, claims neglected midfielder

It would be fair to say that John Obi Mikel has seen it all at Chelsea, going through a rather exhaustive cycle from a controversial signing as a hotly tipped youngster, to neglected experienced campaigner. You name the squad status, he’s had it.

It seems a lifetime ago that he was caught up in that rather ugly transfer saga, joining Chelsea in 2006 after Manchester United had previously presented him as their player in April 2005. The Reds did receive £12million from the situation, though.

Since then, although he never really developed into the player everyone thought he would following that protracted transfer battle, he has certainly seen a lot.

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He became a prominent member of the first-team squad in his first season and then by the 2008-09 campaign he was a regular starter. But thereafter, he has been rather more hit-and-miss, finding himself in and out of the team.

The 2011-12, 12-13 and 13-14 seasons saw him start 15, 19 and 11 Premier League matches, respectively, before just six the year after that. Under Guus Hiddink last term he battled his way back to prominence and made 25 appearances in the league, but now he appears to be in his most desperate hour.

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The midfielder hasn’t made a single appearance under Antonio Conte yet, probably partly down to his decision to go to the Olympics with Nigeria in the summer – winning a bronze medal, no less – instead of having a pre-season with Chelsea.

He’s admirably defiant, though. He regrets nothing.

“Yes, maybe people will say the new manager was upset I left and went to the Olympics, that I didn’t have a pre-season with the team.

“He probably thinks I don’t care about the team, things like that.

“I would never swap my Olympic medal for a place back in the Chelsea team.

“I have not one single regret in going to the Olympics. And I will not trade my medal for anything.”

John Obi Mikel

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It’s difficult to side with Conte in this argument. How many opportunities does a footballer over the age of 23 have of going to the Olympics and potentially winning a medal?

Not many. His form last season proved he still has plenty left to give, so if Conte really is freezing him out due to his decision to compete at the Olympics, then it’s the Italian who is really in the wrong.