Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel played in World Cup hours after learning of father’s kidnapping

John Obi Mikel (centre) speaks to the referee during the match against Argentina. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel played his country’s crucial World Cup game with Argentina in the knowledge his father had been kidnapped and would be killed if the midfielder reported the matter to the authorities.

The former Chelsea player said he was told four hours before the game about the incident.

Mikel said in a statement from his management company that he hid the news from his team-mates and coaches in Russia and “had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first”.

Obi Mikel captained Nigeria in their three World Cup matches. Credit: PA

Nigeria lost last Tuesday’s game in St Petersburg 2-1 after a late Argentina goal, and were eliminated from the World Cup.

“I played while my father was in the hands of bandits,” Mikel said on Tuesday. “I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kick-off to tell me what had happened.

“I was emotionally distraught and I had to make the decision about whether I was mentally ready to play. 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. I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I could not even inform the coaches or NFF staff and only a very tight circle of my friends knew.

“I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody. I also did not want to discuss it with the coach [Gernot Rohr] because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to him or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. As much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not.

“Thankfully, my father was safely released on Monday afternoon. I thank the police authorities for their rescue efforts and the support I’ve received from friends and family members. Unfortunately, my dad is now in hospital receiving emergency treatment as a result of the torture he received during his capture.”

Mikel’s father, Michael Mikel, who is also known as Pa Michael Obi, was freed in the southeastern state of Enugu on Monday.

It is the second time his father has been kidnapped in Nigeria.