Former Chelsea star John Obi Mikel has named Steven Gerrard as the best player in the Premier League during his spell in England.
The midfielder faced a host of the most revered names in English football during his decade at Stamford Bridge.
It was a time when Chelsea were regularly locking horns with Thierry Henry’s Arsenal and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United for domestic honours, with Mikel collecting two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups in a blue shirt.
Henry is often regarded as the most gifted player to have ever graced the English top flight, while Ronaldo’s early years at Old Trafford were an important precurser to his record-busting career at Real Madrid.
But Mikel – who recently joined us at talkSPORT for a brilliant interview about his Premier League career – insisted Liverpool icon Gerrard was the toughest player to face.
“I’ve always said my toughest opponent in the Premier League was Stevie G,” he told Rio Ferdinand in the latest edition of his Vibe with Five podcast.
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“You remember when he started playing as a No.10 for Liverpool, with Fernando Torres up front? Oh my God!
“Quick, technically very good, strong, powerful, he could tackle as well. You’re looking at a No.10 who could tackle! I know he didn’t play in that position for very long, but he was the guy who was very, very difficult to play against. He knew how to find the space in between you and the defenders.
“Yeah, for me, Stevie G was the guy, he was that good.”
After naming his toughest opponent, the Five hosts then asked John Obi to name the best player he played against in the Premier League, name-dropping Henry and Ronaldo as examples.
But the ex-Chelsea star replied: “Again, I’d probably have to go back to Stevie G. He was the best Premier League player, for me.
“He was so physically strong. I’m physically strong as well, I know I can get people off the ball, but not Gerrard. I could not get him off the ball.
“He knew how to find space behind me. You think you had him and he’s gone, because he was so quick as well and he can shoot right or left, it’s so difficult.
“And as soon as you lose him you know you’re in trouble, and that’s why the partnership with him and Torres was so good and they scored a lot of goals.
“We played in a lot of big games against Liverpool at that time, Champions League, Premier League and they became one of our close rivals. I had a few tough times against them!”
But there was another name on his lips when asked about the best player he faced outside of English football, with his answer likely to blow fresh embers on the GOAT debate.
“I’m a Messi fan,” Mikel said.
“I’m telling you now, when we played against United when Cristiano was there, we knew, ‘OK Ash [Ashley Cole] would deal with him, Ash will deal with him, he’s capable of dealing with him’.
“But every time it was against Barcelona, oh my God, training the whole week was all about Messi.
“We had to have two or three players with him, you can’t defend one-v-one against Messi, it’s impossible. You’re dead.
“The way Barcelona played and moved the ball around, the sole purpose is getting the ball to him. All he’s doing is watching the game, walking around just to find the space and once the ball gets to him, the movement, everybody is running. It’s so difficult, the way he touches the ball, the way he passes.
“Our game plan was just to kick him and get him off the ball, because you can’t get the ball off him, you can’t get close enough. You think you’re there and then he’s gone. That’s the only way we could stop him.”
Ferdinand, as CR7’s former teammate, later attempted to back up the Portuguese superstar, but Mikel wouldn’t have it.
“For me, I really don’t see the comparison between Messi and Ronaldo,” he added.
“I think Messi is from a different planet. I just think he’s that good.”