John Obi Mikel has opened up about his difficult couple of years in China and explained why he “had to come back” to English football.
In an honest interview with the Telegraph, Mikel admits he had his head turned by the lucrative sums on offer in the Chinese league and insists he doesn’t regret his decision to join Tianjin Teda.
But after joining the club and leaving his family, he says he quickly realized he’d made a mistake and has warned other players against moving to China – unless they’re at the very end of their career.
Mikel canceled his contract with Tianjin in January of this year – two years after joining the club – and made it clear that he wanted to head back to Europe. It was a decision driven by family and football reasons.
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“It was two years of a huge culture shock,” Mikel told the Telegraph, looking back on his time in China.
“The food was a problem, the lifestyle, the style in which everything was done.
“When you have been at a club like Chelsea in the Premier League for 11 years, it was very hard to adapt to how things were done. It isn’t at the elite level, let’s put it that way.
“The pitches were poor, stadiums are poor, and the medical facilities were not what I was used to. I’m not saying it’s all the Chinese clubs, some of them are quite professional, but the one I was at, it wasn’t as professional as it should have been. It became tough for me almost straight away. I wouldn’t say I regretted it, I had a good time with my team-mates, but it was never easy.
“The standard of football, it’s not even Championship standard. I realized that very quickly. It’s a league that wants to grow, they are putting a lot of money in, but it is a long way behind.”
He added: “My advice to anyone thinking about going, is have a long think about it. You have to go at the right time. I certainly wouldn’t say to anyone under the age of 30 to go there. They will regret it if they do.
“It’s worth doing for a couple of years, if only to learn a different culture, for an experience that takes you out of your comfort zone, but do not be tempted by the money if you are young. Do your research, check what sort of club you are going to over there.
“You should wait until you are approaching the end of your career. The money makes the move tempting, we’re only human, but do not be tempted by the size of the cheque if you are in the prime of your career. It’s not worth it.”
Since joining Boro, Mikel has shown he still has plenty to offer at the top level, shining for Pulis’s side. The boss was desperate to sign the ex-Chelsea man when he learned of his availability in January and says Mikel has been “exceptional” so far.
“He’s been fantastic and a great example to the rest of the group,” said the manager of the midfielder.
“He’s a quiet unassuming chap and a top, top player and professional. He’s been really good on and off the pitch.
“He’ll give a lot of credit to the other players as well, I know that because I’ve spoken to him about it.
“You don’t win that many trophies and medals without being a good player.
“It’s not just on the pitch where we need him, it’s on the training ground as well, when you’ve got young lads who are training and working with a top international player who’s won everything, it certainly inspires them.
“Hopefully fingers crossed John will be here (next season) and we’ll get the job done and win promotion.”