John Obi Mikel has revealed an anonymous agent representing an unnamed club tried to steal a march on his rivals by persuading him to sign with a briefcase full of cash.
The Nigeria midfielder was the subject of strong interest from a host of European powerhouses after impressing for Nigeria at the U17 World Cup, and Mikel has admitted he turned down $70,000 (£53,000).
Scouts from Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona were all playing particular attention to the midfielder but Premier League sides Manchester United and Chelsea were his strongest admirers.
“I had agents promising me everything,” the 30-year-old has told The Sun. “One approached me in the hotel with a briefcase full of cash.
“I can’t remember what club he claimed to represent – but I do remember the briefcase. It was crammed with $70,000 and he offered me that to sign some contract before adding: ‘Sign here and you’ll get a lot more’.
“I was tempted. I’d never seen so much money but I told the Nigerian FA secretary who was looking after me.
“He told me to ignore this agent but promised I would join the best club. After the tournament, I went home to my family and then saw the secretary again in Abuja.
“That’s when he told me: ‘You’re going to United. They want you and you’re leaving tomorrow’. My dad was so happy but mum was crying because I was moving abroad at such a young age.”
Mikel signed a provisional deal with United in 2005 when he was playing for Norwegian side Lyn Oslo only to end up signing for Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, where he became one of the club’s most decorated players, in 2006.