John Obi Mikel is set to become the first player to leave Chelsea in the January transfer window after holding talks over a move to Marseille. The Nigeria international will be allowed to depart on a free when the window opens on New Year's Day and is expected to spark a winter fire sale at Stamford Bridge, with Brazilian Oscar on the brink of joining the Chinese Super League.
The 29-year-old has not featured in a single Blues squad this season under Antonio Conte, with new signing N'Golo Kante, youngster Nathaniel Chalobah, Serbian Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas all ahead of him in the pecking order. Mikel has made 372 appearances for the west Londoners in over 10 years at the club, but his spell looks to be coming to an end.
Marseille are currently sixth in Ligue 1 this term, having won seven of their 18 league matches yet they stand 16 points behind surprise early leaders Nice. And Mikel is set to become part of attempts to break into the Champions League places during the second half of the campaign.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr told Europe 1: "I saw Obi Mikel in London. He is in advanced discussions with Olympique Marseille. He will leave Chelsea for free, this is a serious option."
Chelsea manager Conte had claimed earlier this month that Mikel had a role to play between now and the end of the season, and would stay until his contract expires in 2017. However, Mikel's desire to play first team football has fast-tracked his exit from the Premier League.
Mikel was immediately out-of-favour under Conte after choosing to play in the football competition at the Rio Olympic Games for Nigeria, where he won a silver medal. The ex-FK Lyn man believes that decision sparked the beginning of the end of his career at the club having upset Conte with his choice.
"I have never been a guy who makes excuses in life and never shy away from responsibilities," he told The Sun. "Yes, maybe people will say the new manager was upset I left and went to the Olympics, that I didn't have a pre-season with the team.. He probably thinks I don't care about the team, things like that.
"But I don't want to use those excuses. I have to keep training hard and make sure I change the manager's mind. If not, then we'll see what happens in January. But, no, I would never swap my Olympic medal for a place back in the Chelsea team.
"One thing you have to do in life as a man is that when you make a decision, or a sacrifice, you have to deal with it. You have to stand by your decision. You have to live with it. I have not one single regret in going to the Olympics. And I will not trade my medal for anything. It's what I deserve. I worked hard for it, so why would I trade it for something else — a place in the Chelsea squad?"