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The 27-year-old occupies the deep-lying holding role for his club and barely ventures beyond the halfway line in the Premier League.
However, when he is on international duty he plays with a freedom and swagger that belies his status as a defensive rock at Chelsea.
Mikel was runner-up behind midfielder Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast and Manchester City in the African Footballer of the Year Award for 2013, after helping his country win last year s Nations Cup in South Africa.
The strong, robust midfielder seems to shed his inhibitions when playing for his country, strutting around like the linchpin of their attacking moves and popping up in the opposition penalty area to get the occasional goal.
Goals have never been his forte at Chelsea though as four strikes in more than 300 appearances testify. His first league goal - in a 2-0 win over Fulham earlier this season - came in his 185th Chelsea league match.
Mikel said it was a fear of making manager Jose Mourinho really mad that prevents him from venturing too far forward in the Premier League.
I wish I could score every time, the midfielder explained. But the most important thing the manager wants me to do is to keep the shape for the team.
He gets more upset when we concede a goal on the counter-attack. That is when he gets really, really mad.
He s always wanted me to be there in front of the back four and I ve always done that job, said Mikel.
I will just keep doing what I do and help this team be successful and win trophies.
Mikel has been in and out of the Chelsea side since Mourinho splashed out more than 20 million pounds (.62 million) to re-sign Nemanja Matic from Benfica in January.
His career at Stamford Bridge certainly had a difficult start as he was at the centre of a tug-of-war for his services between Chelsea and Manchester United after confusion surrounded a move from Lyn Oslo in Norway.
Eventually, after months of protracted legal wrangling and eventual punishments and sanctions, he settled at Chelsea but that wasn t the only mix-up in his early days.
One legacy of more confusion is that he has never played at the top level under his real name which is John Obinna.
The Obi Mikel tag has stuck ever since the Nigeria Football Association botched his paperwork ahead of a FIFA youth tournament and registered him wrongly.
Whatever he is known as, he has enjoyed a superb career at Stamford Bridge and even if his days there are numbered now, expect him to play a pivotal role for his country in June when they take on Argentina, Bosnia and Iran in Group F. ( = 0.5950 British Pounds) (Editing by Mike Collett)