John Obi Mikel, a midfielder and captain for Nigeria, has revealed that he played his country’s final group stage game, against Argentina, despite knowing that his father had been kidnapped.
Pa Michael Obi has since been rescued.
Abducted hours before game
Mikel told KweseESPN that he got a phone call from the kidnappers just four hours before Nigeria’s game against Argentina last Tuesday; they were demanding N10 million (or $26,000 US) from the 31-year-old to return his father.
The kidnappers told Mikel not to tell authorities or they would shoot his father “instantly.”
Mikel not only didn’t tell authorities, he didn’t tell the Nigeria Football Federation or his coach, Gernot Rohr, and played against Argentina, trying to pretend nothing was wrong.
“I was confused. I did not know what to do, but in the end I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down,” Mikel said. “I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody.
“And I did not want to discuss it with the coach because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to the coach or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. So as much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not do it.”
Nigeria lost the game, 2-1, and was eliminated from the World Cup.
Rescued after a ‘gun duel’
Mikel’s father was abducted last Tuesday while on his way to a funeral in the city of Jos, where Mikel was born. On Monday, nearly a week after the kidnapping, Pa Obi and his driver were rescued after a “gun duel,” Nigeria Police said.
Superintendent of Police Ebere Amaraizu said in a statement on Tuesday, “The abductors started calling to demand a ransom of N10 million before police operatives acted on intelligence information and swooped on them.
“In the process of the rescue, a gun duel ensued between police operatives and the kidnappers, which forced the hoodlums to abandon their victims inside the forest and they were promptly rescued.”
Pa Obi was taken to the hospital, and family told KweseEspn that he had been tortured and needed multiple stitches; he was initially released, but had to return to the hospital after some of the sutures broke.
Now that the ordeal is public, Mikel posted a statement to Twitter:
Mikel is considering flying his father abroad for more treatment.
This is the second time Pa Obi has been kidnapped; the first time was in 2011, and he was released after 10 days. After this latest abduction, security around Mikel’s family will be stepped up.
Returning to China
Mikel, who has been home in England since the loss to Argentina, was slated to return to China on Tuesday. After over a decade with Chelsea, Mikel began playing for the Chinese Super League team Tianjin TEDA in 2017 and is vice-captain of the team.
Tianjin TEDA is currently eighth in the 16-team Super League, which is on a two-month break for the World Cup. China did not qualify for the tournament, but numerous players in the league are playing for their respective countries.
It will resume July 17.
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