Hours before his team took the field against Argentina in a World Cup soccer game last week, Nigeria's captain learned his father had been kidnapped back home -- and the kidnappers told him to keep quiet if he wanted to see his dad again, John Obi Mikel revealed Tuesday.
Mikel said in a statement from his management company that he received the shocking news as he traveled with his team to the stadium in St. Petersburg last Tuesday. He said a family member called him and told him he had to call a designated number to communicate with the captors.
He said they demanded an undisclosed amount of money and would shoot his father if he reported the kidnapping to authorities, The Guardian reported.
Mikel hid the news from his teammates and coach and took to the field in Russia, hoping to make it past the group stage.
“I played while my father was in the hands of bandits,” Mikel said. “I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kickoff to tell me what had happened.”
He continued: “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,” Mikel said.
The midfielder, who also plays for Chinese club Tianjin TEDA, put the trauma aside and took the field. Nigeria lost, 2-1, after a late goal by Marcus Rojo and exited the tournament. A 1-1 draw would have seen Nigeria qualify to the round of 16.
The Guardian reported that Mikel’s father, Michael Mikel, was kidnapped as he traveled to a funeral along the Makurdi-Enugu expressway from Jos. Nigerian police freed the elder Mikel on Monday.
“I thank the police authorities for their rescue efforts and the support I’ve received from friends and family members,” John Obi Mikel said. “Unfortunately, my dad is now in hospital receiving emergency treatment as a result of the torture he received during his capture.”
This is the second time Michael Mikel has been kidnapped, the first one coming in August 2011.