Former Ajax Cape Town chairman, John Comitis, is still regretting why he did not accept the signing of former Chelsea midfielder, John Obi Mikel, in December 2003.
Then a 16-year-old, Mikel arrived in Cape Town for a week-long trial spell and torched Ajax’s Ikamva training grounds with some sublime touches that left everyone awestruck.
So impressive was Mikel that then Ajax coach Gordon Igesund had to briefly abandon the former Nigerian’s first training session and stormed into Comitis’ office demanding that he signed the teenager.
“After about 20 minutes of training, I told the players, ‘listen, guys, I’ve got to dash somewhere but I’ll be back’. I left my assistant conducting training and I went straight into John’s office and I said, ‘John, sign this player right now, call him now and sign him right away’,” Igesund told Far Post.
“The boy was in a different league. He was big, strong and he could pass the ball. We tried everything in our power to sign him, but there were a few issues – between Manchester United and another club. I don’t think he had intentions of signing [for Ajax].”
Mikel was already on the radar of Manchester United and Chelsea who later on were involved in a protracted fight for the player’s signature before the Blues later won the battle.
Had Ajax met the R1 million signing-on fee demanded by Mikel and his handler, they might have left the Premier League giants holding some fresh air.
The Urban Warriors could have taken advantage of the fact that Mikel did jot qualify for a UK work permit and sign the player who had the potential of earning them big money from his sale.
“During the first training session, Gordon Igesund came to me and said just sign him. I said I’ll try,” said Comitis.
“He was really special, but they were talking about a R1 million signing-on fee. Had I known what I know today it was cheap at that price, but you never know.”
Not only Igesund was blown away by Mikel, but also former Ajax forward Nathan Paulse who believes that Mikel’s boots were too big for Premier Soccer League (PSL) football.
“We could not believe he was 16 at that time. He was that good. He had authority, he had a presence, he was extremely good on the ball,” Paulse said.
“We looked at each other during his first two days and wondered if he was really 16. From a playing point of view, he was amazing. I don’t think playing in the PSL would have done him good.
“His ability was just too good at that age. He stood out immediately, he was extremely calm on the ball. He could run with the ball like a top professional. I don’t think the PSL would have suited him in terms of the actual level.”
It came as not a surprise that Mikel went on to win a Uefa Champions League crown and two Premier League titles with Chelsea.
Mikel, who is now a free agent after recently leaving Turkish side Trabzonspor, also lifted the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria.