Former Super Eagles captain, John Obi Mikel, has opened up about the harrowing experience of having to pay a ransom to secure the release of his kidnapped father, Pa Michael Obi, just hours before a crucial match against Argentina in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In an interview with Dubai Eye 103.8 Sport, Mikel shared the emotional toll and difficult decisions he had to make during this ordeal.

“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,” Mikel revealed.

Mikel received the distressing news while traveling on the team bus to the stadium in St. Petersburg. A family member had called and told him that he needed to call the kidnappers on a designated number and pay a ransom to ensure his father’s release. The kidnappers threatened to harm his father if he reported to the authorities or told anyone about the situation.

“They [the kidnappers] said listen, we know, it is Mikel he would pay. If he doesn’t, we are going to shoot his dad. They said they had nothing to lose. They would shoot my dad and dump him somewhere,” Mikel shared.

Despite the immense pressure and fear, Mikel made the difficult decision to play the match and not let his personal crisis become a distraction to the team. “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,” Mikel explained.

After the game, Mikel continued to negotiate with the kidnappers and eventually paid a “crazy amount of money” to secure his father’s release. However, the emotional impact of the incident still lingers with him. “Even now, I still go through it. Even when I got a flashback, I had to speak to the guys on the phone. There was a gunpoint at his head. They said they would shoot him, kill him. I have not told my kids about it, but a few months ago, they looked at my phone and saw the news about it. Obviously, I have not told them about it because they are young kids, 7 years, but one day when they grow up, I will be able to share the story with them,” Mikel shared.

Mikel’s courage and resilience in the face of such a traumatic experience were widely applauded, highlighting the challenges that athletes may face dealing with off-field crises. His story serves as a testament to his unwavering patriotism and determination to represent his country, even in the midst of personal adversity.