He lopes around the pitch in front of the back four in the position mastered by the compact, nippier Claude Makelele, but John Obi Mikel has built respect among successive Chelsea managers, and enjoys the confidence of Jose Mourinho.

While more skilful players such as Juan Mata feel marginalised, Mikel enjoys wholehearted managerial support.

He notched up his 300th game in the weekend’s 2-0 victory at Derby in the FA Cup, scoring only his fourth goal in a nine-year Chelsea career.

It was in 2005 that the midfielder was at the centre of a messy tug-of-love between the Blues and Manchester United, who thought they had signed him in a wrangle which confirmed Sir Alex Ferguson’s opinion of agents.

On Sunday, a superb Mikel header steered Willian’s cross into the back of the net, and Chelsea were able to relax, notch a second via Oscar, and set up a home battle with Stoke in the next round.

Mikel is under contract at the Bridge until 2017, but at the current rate the 26-year-old could stay in SW6 well into his 30s.

Once nicknamed Doughboy by teammates, he has declared that he wants to play his whole football career at Chelsea.

“We have always had this winning mentality at Chelsea,” he said after the Derby game. “We know what the manager wants from us. It is starting to pay off and hopefully at the end of the season we will be smiling.”

At the weekend, the Blues were driven by a desire not to need a replay. Fixture congestion would have caused serious headaches had the game been drawn.

Next, Chelsea travel to Hull, hoping not to lapse into the kind of scrappy, ragged play which ushered the Derby game to a close.

Rumours continue to swirl that Paris St Germain will make a bid for Juan Mata this month. His loss would upset fans, but Jose refuses to guarantee the playmaker’s future.