Al Kuwait SC have confirmed the signing of John Obi Mikel, despite Stoke City activating their option to extend the 34-year-old’s stay with The Potters.
The former Chelsea star was an integral part to Michael O’Neill’s side last year but has now departed the Championship for pastures new.
Mikel’s experience on the pitch, combined with his mentality around the changing rooms, made him a leading figure amongst his teammates and an excellent role model for the younger members of the squad.
Despite making just shy of 40 appearances for the Potters, Mikel leaves the Bet 365 stadium having not experienced the return of fans.
O’Neill, who was seemingly preparing his squad for the 2021/22 season with Mikel in mind, will now have additional decisions to make, but does not appear to possess any hard feelings.
Speaking to Stoke Sentinel, O’Neill said: “Although John triggered the second year of his contract, we always had an agreement in place whereby we would let him leave if a significant overseas opportunity came along.
“John is a fantastic professional and was a huge presence for us last season both on and off the field, particularly with the young players in our first-team squad.
“I really enjoyed working with him and would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his contribution and wish him every success for the future.”
Quiz: What was the score the last time Stoke City played each of these 25 teams?
With departures overwhelmingly outweighing the arrivals in Staffordshire so far, it seems that O’Neill has a long summer ahead.
Replacing Nathan Collins with Ben Wilmot was shrewd business but there is still a lot more that needs to be done if the Potters have any chance of returning to the Premier League.
The loss of Mikel will certainly be a blow to the club and fans alike, but it does provide Stoke with an opportunity to seek a younger alternative who will have time on their side.
His presence around the changing room is likely to be missed too, but it is now up to the senior members of the squad to step up and take that role.
With the amount of expiring contracts this year, Stoke will have several options in regard to holding midfield players. It is now down to O’Neill and his recruitment team to react.