Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis says the Championship side will need more than Premier League promotion to keep Super Eagles star John Obi Mikel at the club. The 31-year-old has had a massive impact at the Riverside Stadium since his arrival from the Chinese Super League club, Tianjin TEDA, but the gaffer thinks Championship success may not be enough to tie him down.
After six Championship appearances, the former Chelsea star has proven his class in Middlesbrough’s midfield with his composure and control that seen them register just a defeat in the league games he has played in. Mikel’s displays have won him many plaudits including a spot in the Championship Team of the Week and also a song from the club faithful that describes him as the ‘African Zidane’.
With Boro well-placed in a position [fifth] for the Championship playoffs, Pulis believes convincing Mikel about the club’s potentials will be crucial in keeping him at the Riverside Stadium. “I don’t think the key to keeping John is going up. I think the key is to show him the potential the club has,” Pulis said, per Teesside Live. “I think the secret to keeping John at the end of the season is to convince him this is a club going in the right direction.”
Following the completion of his short-term move to the Teesside in January, Mikel revealed how Pulis convinced him to move to Boro, however, the gaffer has recounted his own side of the transfer story that saw him and goalkeeper coach Jonathan Gould travel to London for a ‘full-day’ meeting with the midfielder. “It was a full day, non-stop, making sure he didn’t go anywhere else or talk to anyone or do anything except stay with me and Gouldy,” he continued.
“Me and John went down there, went to one of his houses and sat there with him, convinced him this was the ideal place and what he would need to get back to playing his best football. We told him all the positive about the club, about our plans and how he could be part of something. It is a lovely place for him to get his wife out of London, that helped. To come up here and see the area helped. I think they have moved up to Durham now and are all settled. She can get out now with the children and see something different. We needed someone of his ilk, someone of his stature about him. We sold that to him. We told him he would be really important.”
The Nigeria captain was in action for the entire 90 minutes as Wigan Athletic held the Riverside Stadium outfit to a goalless draw in Saturday’s league outing. And the former Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion manager has disclosed how pleased he is with the midfielder’s character and how upbeat he was about the Nigerian’s success in his team prior to the move.
“I’m not surprised about the impact he has had. I spoke to a lot of people before I spoke to John,” he added. “When you have been out of the country for two years and haven’t played competitive football – no disrespect to the Chinese League – then there is always some doubts but everyone I spoke to said he was a wonderful person, very grounded, very down to earth. That’s the big issue with players: it is character, character, character. And John has that in his locker.”
He added: “People here will be able to say better than me whether there have been players over the years who have turned up just to take the coin. John is not going to do that. He isn’t about the money. He just seems to be enjoying it. I was 100 per cent it was the right move. It was difficult to convince everyone it was right because we have so many midfield players and I am not sure what the supporters thought of us bringing another one in, but he was never going to be a gamble for me. He was always going to help us.”
Will Mikel remain at Middlesbrough should they gain promotion to the Premier League?