John Obi Mikel is convinced his bad-boy reputation has gone for good after two years without a red card to his name. Midfielder Mikel's early seasons at Stamford Bridge were blighted by four red cards – including one in the Carling Cup final victory over Arsenal in 2007 – and 27 yellow cards.
However, the Nigeria international has only picked up two bookings so far this season and has not seen red since January 2008 against Everton. Mikel puts the dramatic improvement in his disciplinary record down to adapting to the English game.
"English football is always something crazy and, when you come into the Premier League, you must adapt to it somehow," said Mikel. "The timing of those tackles was the area I had to improve and I think I've dealt well with it. It was the hunger I had for the games, the enthusiasm, that meant I didn't know how to restrict myself from going into tackles at the wrong moment.
"It took me a bit of time to get used to things but now it has been two years with no red cards and I hope I can continue like that. I always try to keep my aggression but not get booked. But when you play in my position, sometimes you have to commit because the team will be in danger if you don't."
Mikel was the last of Chelsea's four African Nations Cup players to return to England last month. His Nigeria side were beaten in the semi-finals of the competition but won their third-place play-off 1-0 against Algeria. Mikel was a 78th-minute substitute in that game but he has slotted straight back into the Chelsea side since he returned, including a fine performance against Arsenal. He was outstanding against Cardiff in Chelsea's FA Cup fifth-round win on Saturday and is now hoping for a hat-trick of triumphs in the competition.
Chelsea face the winners of the replay between Manchester City and Stoke in the last eight. Mikel has won the trophy in two of his three full seasons at Stamford Bridge. "I want to do well because I always want to win," Mikel said. "But maybe the final feels a bit more special and a good performance there shows people how much you want to win the trophy. I think playing the FA Cup, whatever round you are in, always feels very special."