John Obi Mikel says African footballers are effectively subject to an extra tax as they often support extended family and hangers-on back home.
The former Chelsea and Nigeria midfielder has claimed some players are even “threatened by their own blood” if they do not offer financial assistance.
“When you come from Africa – and this is something I don’t think we speak a lot about – when you make money, it is not your money,” said Mikel, speaking on Rio Ferdinand’s Vibe with FIVE.
“You have all these relatives, cousins, whatever. “Your sisters, they go off and get married to some guy. He just wants to get married into John Obi Mikel’s family because then he thinks ‘my life is sorted’.
“You start looking after this guy and you send money to your sister and the money goes to him and he does whatever he does with it.
“This is the thing nobody knows about – your money is not your money.
“You get a salary and say ‘I’ll put this aside for this person, put that aside for that person, and put that aside for my mum and dad’. Before you know it, you are getting less than them.
“That is the culture. They expect you to do that. For them, you owe them. “This story needs to be told. A lot of young African players that are coming up now need to be told this because they will go through similar situations. “They will need to know how to deal with this.”
Mikel says players have to be strong if they decide to stop assisting others financially, as there can be a backlash.
“Sometimes you have to say ‘Enough is enough, I don’t care’. For me that moment came about five years ago,” the 36-year-old added.
“I said ‘No more’, because I have been doing this since I started playing football.
“You become the bad guy. They stop answering your phone calls. They are used to calling you – not to check up on you but to ask ‘What are you giving me?’. “You have to be strong enough. I was giving so much to the family.
“All you do is keep giving and they are so comfortable that they expect you to do that for the rest of your life.”
Mikel says players could even be emotionally blackmailed. “They give you this thing whereby ‘If you don’t do it [pay], we are going to go to the press’. “You are thinking, ‘You are family. After all I’ve done for you guys?’.
“In Africa not everybody comes out and speaks about this, because we think ‘How are we going to talk about this?’. “You get threatened by your own blood.”
Kidnapping cases leave players ‘utterly helpless’
Mikel has also been reflecting on the impact of his father being kidnapped twice, given Liverpool forward Luis Diaz recently went through a similar scenario.
The Colombia international’s father was freed on 9 November after 12 days in captivity.
Diaz missed two club games during that period but was reunited with Luis Manuel Diaz on Tuesday and scored twice for his country against Brazil on Thursday, with his father watching on from the stands.
Mikel found out his father had been kidnapped for a second time before Nigeria faced Argentina at the 2018 World Cup, but still played as the Super Eagles were beaten 2-1
Even with a positive outcome, Mikel believes such kidnappings can leave enduring and profound marks on a player’s mental and emotional well-being.
“This type of experience doesn’t leave you, even after your loved ones are back home,” Mikel said.
“It’s unfortunate we are targets. It’s a difficult situation for anyone to endure and I hope no-one goes through it.”
In 2011 Mikel’s father, Pa Michael Obi, endured a ten-day period in captivity before being released. He was then abducted again in 2018, and Mikel found out while preparing to play for Nigeria against Argentina at the World Cup in Russia. “My father was kidnapped minutes before one of the biggest games of my career.
“He was threatened and I was emotionally unsettled while playing on the pitch. It was a very horrific experience for me. “It’s a situation where you feel utterly helpless.”
Mikel has emphasised the need for football clubs, organisations and governing bodies to prioritise the mental health and overall well-being of players grappling with such traumatic circumstances, and encouraged footballers and their families to seek professional support and assistance in times of distress.
Chelsea the ‘ideal stage’ for Osimhen
Now based in Dubai, Mikel is making waves in broadcasting with his own show, The Obi One Podcast.
Napoli and Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen was a recent guest, revealing he turned down a potential move to Saudi Arabia earlier this year for the “good of his career”.
Mikel says “it would have been a dream” to play with the 24-year-old, a front runner for the African Footballer of the Year award who was top scorer in Italy’s Serie A last year as Napoli won a first title in 33 years.
And Mikel is keen for Osimhen to move to London to join his former club, where he believes he has the potential to emulate the success achieved by legendary Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge. “His talent, fighting spirit is obvious,” Mikel said.
“Didier Drogba had a great career at Stamford Bridge. Osimhen, as an African, can continue in that path.
“Chelsea is the ideal stage for Victor Osimhen to continue his career.”