Former Nigeria captain Mikel Obi has opened up over his feelings on playing while his father had been kidnapped – on two occasions.
The Nigerian has a long, illustrious career – mainly spanning with Chelsea, where he spent 11 years.
But for all of the good times he enjoyed while on the pitch, incidents off it threatened to derail him.
That is what happened when Andre Villas-Boas arrived and for his first competitive match in charge of the Blues, he needed all of his big guns.
Many miles away, though, Mikel’s father Michael had been kidnapped back in Nigeria and Villas-Boas asked the midfielder how he felt about playing against Stoke.
Mikel told The Athletic: “Villas-Boas called me into his office to talk to me about it. He needed me but obviously asked if I was in the mindset to play or if I wanted to sit this one out.
“But I just told him there was nothing I could do at that stage. I’d been making phone calls and so on but I had to do my job, I had to be strong. It was a very difficult moment.
“AVB (Villas-Boas) was like, ‘If that’s your decision, fine’. I travelled up to Stoke with the squad and played the game. But throughout the match, all I could think about was my dad and what was going to happen to him.”
The issue was resolved with Mikel paying a fraction of what was demanded but it would happen again – seven years later – when the Nigerian was no longer at Chelsea.
He returned to his hotel room after a team meeting to grab his belongings before heading to a game when his brother called to inform him of the news.
“I was like, ‘What? Oh my god!’. I was out in Russia representing my country and some crazy people felt that they could go after my dad, doing terrible things to me and my family?”
He eventually decided against telling anyone about the incident before the game, instead speaking to his family in his hotel room and opting to keep quiet as Nigeria faced a huge game.
“That was even harder to deal with than the first one. No one else knew about it. I had to go on the pitch and play the game,” he added.
“I thought I was going to cry. I thought I was just going to fall to the ground and shout out. That’s how terrible it was. That’s how painful it was. But I had to do my job and play the game.”