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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May 2005, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Obi's father calls for truce

Photo courtesy of Aftenposten newspaper, Norway
When we got him, we realised we had found the best young talent in the whole of Nigeria
Nduka Ndubuisi, Obi's former club coach in Nigeria

As a high-profile battle for the skills of John Mikel Obi rages on between Manchester United and Chelsea in England, his father Michael is a very worried man in faraway Nigeria.

As United insist his 18-year-old son must respect the contract he signed with them - even though he claims he put pen to paper under duress - the elder Obi is keen for the controversy to go away.

"I am surprised at the turn of things," he told BBC Sport from his home in Jos, in Nigeria's Plateau State.

"I will only appeal to all the parties involved in the dispute to settle the problem, so that my son can move on."

But before the latest controversy, the elder Obi had been happy with his son's decision to come under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

"When I first heard of his deal [with Manchester United], I was so happy.

"Friends and relations from across the country and in Jos where I live, have been trooping to my house to celebrate the progress Mikel is making in his career."

"But my joy is now dimmed because of the rows between the clubs at the centre of the transfer controversy," he confessed.

A tyre repairer by trade, the elder Obi was a footballer in his teenage years at St Teresa's school in Jos.

He had a stint with local side, Gombe XI, which was to have been the first step in the pursuit of a football career.

But the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war, in which members of his Igbo ethnic group abortively fought to secede from the rest of the country, rudely halted his dreams of a career.

"When I was playing, there was no money," he recalls.

"The most people could do for you is to buy a drink in appreciation of your performance."

But the talent that emerged in his son, the seventh child in a family of eight, allowed him to relish what could have been, had he been more fortunate.

Mikel Obi's talent was first noticed by a football academy, run by Kashimawo Laloko, who is also the technical director of the Nigeria FA.

My joy is dimmed because of the rows between the clubs at the centre of the transfer controversy
Michael Obi, John Mikel's father

"He was one of my best players at that time," said James Ayeni, a coach at the academy's Jos centre.

"He was so thin yet so brave and he also had a very good first touch."

They trained him for several years before he joined Plateau United, a team in the Nigerian championship.

Plateau officials knew they had unearthed a shining talent after watching him in action for local side Young Scarlet FC.

"It's hard to explain his talent at such a tender age, but when we got him, we realised we had found the best young talent in the whole of Nigeria," Nduka Ndubuisi, erstwhile coach of Plateau United, told BBC Sport.

"The fans were critical of our decision to play a school boy but he was outstanding in the few games he played at home."

Obi's father had rejected a request to allow the youngster travel for the team's away games, restricting him to their Jos base.

But it did not stop Austin Eguavoen, then coach of Nigeria's Under-17 side, from unearthing Obi and making him a key player in the team that went to the 2003 World Championship in Finland.

"When I see Mikel Obi, he reminds me of players Like Frank Lampard, Zinedine Zidane, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes," said Eguavoen, now assistant coach of Nigeria's Super Eagles.

"He is strong, quick, uses both feet and is technically sound. I preferred playing him behind the two main strikers."

Before the Finland tournament, the team trained at Manchester United's Carrington ground.

Then 16, Obi was noticed by Jim Ryan, the club's youth director.

That marked the start of a journey that saw Obi also attracting attention from Chelsea, whose manager Jose Mourinho described him as "pure gold."

But the young prospect must first dribble past the problems that threaten to ruin an English club career that is yet to begin.

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