Manchester United have sent a nine-page letter to Fifa calling for transfer sanctions to be imposed on Chelsea if it is proven they induced the Nigerian prodigy John Obi Mikel to break his contract with Old Trafford, although in private United would be willing to reach a compromise with the Premiership champions.
The 18-year-old signed for United from Norwegian side Lyn Oslo in April but later claimed that he had done so under duress and expressed a desire to join Chelsea instead.
He left Norway without warning in November with his agent, John Shittu, and only resurfaced this month, with the Nigeria squad at the African Nations' Cup in Egypt.
Lyn Oslo, whose sporting director Morgan Andersen also signed the letter to Fifa, have claimed that death threats were made against Mikel's family when it was said he would be joining United.
The letter, which emerged during a BBC Radio Five investigation, also calls for the exclusion of Chelsea, who will deny all allegations, from competitions. However, the dispute's natural resolution will be that United, who claim to have a legal right to Mikel's registration, will sell the 18-year-old to Chelsea and would look for at least £6m.
Their managers may be the best of pals, but all is not well again between United and Chelsea after the latest chapter on John Obi Mikel
The unseemly row over John Obi Mikel intensified yesterday as Chelsea reacted angrily to a leaked letter from Manchester United demanding that Fifa ban them from signing any players for two transfer windows. The West London club are furious at what they perceive to be an "outrageous smear" on their reputation and, although not pointing the finger at Old Trafford directly, it is clear whom they hold responsible.
United wrote to Fifa on May 18 last year, asking them to impose sanctions on Chelsea amid allegations that they had induced Mikel to break his contract with the club. The Nigeria international expressed his delight at moving from Lyn Oslo to United on April 30, 2005, but changed his mind within a matter of weeks, claiming he had been forced to sign under duress and wanted to play for Chelsea. With the 18-year-old alleging that he had been denied agent representation by Morgan Andersen, Lyn’s sporting director, United claimed that pressure from their rivals was the reason for his U-turn.
Chelsea retain an interest in the player but insist they have had no contact since he trained at the club’s training ground in December 2004, leaving the matter to Fifa. "As far as Chelsea is concerned this whole issue is a matter for Fifa, which is the correct and most competent authority to decide on it," the statement continued. "Such proceedings involve Mikel, United and Lyn. Chelsea is not a party to those proceedings."
To complicate matters further, Fifa has suspended its investigation until Mikel’s claim against Lyn, whom he walked out on in November amid allegations that his contract was unlawful, is resolved by the Norwegian courts.
The Oslo District Court refused to hear the case this month, ruling that it was a matter for sporting organisations such as Fifa, although Mikel has until Friday to appeal to a higher court.
John Shittu, the player’s agent, indicated yesterday that he was minded to appeal, but was concerned about interrupting his client’s career even further as it could take up to a year to come to court.
"They never said the contract was lawful, they just said it was down to Fifa to deal with the matter," Shittu said. "We’ve already told the world the situation. There was a forgery and the boy was coerced into a contract he didn’t want to sign. It’s a pity that Manchester United are pursuing him as he just wants to play football. This would not happen with a European player."
Having come of age by scoring his first international goal in Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations win over Zimbabwe last Friday, Mikel is desperate to make a similar breakthrough at club level, with Chelsea his preferred destination. "I know where I want to go and I think Chelsea is the better place for me to be," he said. "I have met José Mourinho and he is a brilliant coach and a brilliant man."