In 2005, the then-18-year-old John Obi Mikel was awarded the Silver Ball at the FIFA World Cup U-20 Netherlands 2005. The only player at the tournament considered better than the Flying Eagles' midfielder was a certain Argentinian named Lionel Messi.

 

Mikel was described in the tournament's official report as an outstanding player who has a good vision, dictates the pace of the game and launched most of his side's attack. They also labeled him as a combative playmaker. Fast-forward eight years and the authors have certainly been proved right as Mikel has not only established himself in a Chelsea side packed with star players, but also internationally, inspiring Nigeria's Super Eagles to their third continental title earlier this year in South Africa.

 

With Chelsea he has won just about everything there is to win, including the Premier League, the FA Cup, the UEFA Champions League, which described winning the latter as the "best night of his life" and just in May the UEFA Europa League. Mikel's career has, however, also been followed by controversy and shortly after turning 18, two Premier League giants in Manchester United and Chelsea both claimed they had signed the youngster from Norwegian club Lyn.

 

The issue was only resolved when Chelsea agreed to pay both United and Lyn a high transfer fee. However, it was money well invested as Mikel developed from a teenage prodigy to an international star. Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho changed Mikel's playing style from an attacking player to a defensive midfielder/ball-winner, who plays just in front of the defenders. In 2010, a knee injury forced Mikel out of Nigeria's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ squad, denying him the opportunity to shine on the global stage at a senior level. He is now hoping to put that disappointment behind him by starring at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 Brazil.