John Obi Mikel has admitted that he didn’t contemplate the prospect of Boro missing out on the top six when he signed – but the midfielder has still loved his “amazing” time at the club.
While the former Chelsea man is unlikely to still be at Boro at the start of next season, he said there’s already a determination in the dressing room to right the wrongs of this year’s disappointment and come back stronger next term.
And he has backed the club to do “exactly what they need to do” this summer to ensure they’re in the mix again next year.
Mikel’s future is uncertain after his short-term deal with Boro expired, and the midfielder has admitted he still wants to play at the top level and win silverware.
The 32-year-old already has offers on the table and while he’s keeping his cards close to his chest, the classy midfielder has revealed that he wants to stay in England.
Interest in Mikel is inevitable after his impressive showings in a Boro shirt.
Eyebrows were raised when the Nigerian joined the club having spent 18 months in China, but the experienced midfielder showed that he still has plenty to offer.
Regardless of what happens next, he’s grateful to Boro and to Tony Pulis for the opportunity to enjoy his football again.
“I’ve enjoyed the physicality, the fans being right in front of you, the real English football,” he said.
“I missed that in China.
“Tony has given me the opportunity and I’ve enjoyed it. This (England) is where I want to be, I want to be closer to home, I want to be near my family, so we’ll see what happens. I have a few options here and there, you never know in football.”
When asked how his time at Boro has compared to his expectations when he joined the club, Mikel said: “What I expected was to be in the play-offs or automatic promotion.
“It just wasn’t to be but the club, the players, the staff, was exactly what I expected, good staff, good players, good human beings. I’ve had a lovely time here, it’s been amazing.”
Mikel joined manager Pulis in pointing to the damage done in the six game losing spell as he reflected on Boro narrowly missing out on a play-off spot.
“I think we went through a bad spell when we lost six games in a row,” he said.
“A team like us with big players, a big dressing room, a big club, shouldn’t have gone through that period. A lot went on: key injuries, red cards, a lot of chances we didn’t take. You can point at a lot of things.
“This club should be at the top and I’m they will get there.”
Mikel said the away dressing room at the New York Stadium on Sunday was smarting after missing out on a top six finish but revealed the conversation immediately turned to next season’s promotion push.
“The feeling is we’ll come back stronger next year,” he said.
“The players are hungry, they want to carry on, they want to be in the Premier League. It’s good to see that. Hopefully next season they will do that.
“There is great potential. Lewis Wing is a great player, Dael Fry – they will be massive, massive players for Middlesbrough in the future.
“I’m sure this club is in the right place with the right players, next season they will do really well.”
Mikel isn’t the only Boro figure whose future is uncertain.
As things stand it’s not clear who will be in charge next season – but the midfielder only has good things to say about Pulis.
Looking ahead to the summer, Mikel said: “I’m sure they (Boro) will do exactly what they need to do.
“The manager is a good manager, an experienced manager. I’m sure he will look at the team and know what he wants and then they will go from there.”
Pressed on his own future and the offers he’s received, Mikel said: “I’m not going to tell you that. We’ll see what happens.”