Not many people are aware Manchester United truly signed John Obi Mikel for £4m in late April 2005, and staged a press conference to announce the exciting prospect's arrival. Nobody could have predicted what would happen next, as unprecedented twists and turns beckoned.
From secret meetings with Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, to being offered thousands of pounds inside a briefcase, the story of how the Nigerian signed for United but never played for the club is extraordinary.
It it all began in the spring of 2005 and Mikel, 18, playing for Norwegian club Lyn at the time, had attracted attention from some of the world's biggest clubs with his performances and the Reds were quick to make their interest in signing the defensive midfielder known. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal were all interested in the Nigerian youngster.
Ferguson and United arranged for the late, Nigerian captain Isaac Promise to travel with Mikel to Manchester for an initial one-month audition at Carrington before the pair returned to Africa prior to returning for another three-week stint in 2003.
With Ferguson expressing his desire to sign Mikel, it seemed the deal was on but the United boss never rang back to advance negotiations.
His agent John Shittu, who was working tirelessly searching for professional contract for his client, told Mikel to move to Norway for trials. On this occasion, his trial was successful and Mikel, now turning 18, signed a professional contract with Lyn, but he'd only make six appearances for Berg's side before Ferguson would board a plane to speak to the player that slipped through his net.
Quickly, a contract had been sent to Lyn Oslo. United were offering him £1.5m for three years. He discussed with his father, who told encouraged him to go for it.
United didn't waste any time in staging a press conference to announce his arrival at the club in 2005, with Lyn's director Morgan Andersen claiming the deal was "the biggest transfer ever in Norwegian football".
"It's totally fantastic to come to a great club like Manchester United. Not many players my age get that chance," Mikel said.
He recalled; “Chelsea saw it on TV and went crazy. I later discovered they had an agreement with Lyn Oslo not to sell me to any other club,"
“Then John Shittu flew to Oslo to speak to me. My friends were calling me and then I thought, maybe I had been manipulated. All this was very hard for me. I was so young. We flew to London. I remember thinking: ‘I’ve signed for United but now I’m flying to Chelsea!’”
The whole legal saga was settled when Chelsea agreed to pay £4m to Lyn Oslo and £12m to United and, Mikel cost Mourinho's side £3m.
Mikel went on to enjoy an outstanding career, winning the Champions League and Europa League, two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups across his 11 years spent at Chelsea, making 249 appearances at Stamford Bridge before leaving in 2017.
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