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Essien, Michael


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Michael Essien

Written by Loz and last updated August 2009

[[fimg]=left]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20bison2.gif[/[fimg]] The only player I can think of that covers more ground over 90 minutes than Essien is Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink however this is purely down to the fact that Jimmy’s arse covers 18 square feet just through him standing still! In one season it is irrefutable that Essien has played in no less than five different positions and excelled in all of them, what is possibly refutable is that in one game he runs the equivalent distance of Stamford Bridge to the moon and back although it appears that way!

Essien was born in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, one Africa’s most prosperous cities, and started his career with local side Liberty Professionals FC who play in the 2,000 capacity Dansoman Park. He represented Ghana in the 1999 U17 World Championships helping them to the semi finals where they were knocked out on penalties by a Brazil team which featured a midfield quartet of Abel, Matuzalem, Fabio Pinto and Ronaldinho. It was whilst representing Ghana at youth level that he caught the eye of a whole array of scouts from a host of European teams.

[[fimg]=right]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20at%20bastia2.gif[/[fimg]] This resulted in a transfer to French club SC Bastia, a Corsican club not famed for its illustrious history but one that has seen the likes of Roger Milla, Christian Karembeu Pascal Chimbonda and Lubomir Moravcik pass through at one point or another. Initially Essien struggled to establish himself in the first team and was asked to play in a variety of positions including centre half and both left and right back (for that we can be eternally grateful!) An injury to one of the first choice central midfielders presented Essien with the opportunity to play in his now favoured position and he seized the opportunity with both hands.

The 2002-03 season saw Bastia qualify for the UEFA Cup and the vultures were circling around Essien hoping to secure his signature. Interest came from within France (PSG, Lyon and Marseille) but also England where Everton and their bin dipping neighbours put offers in.

A quick call around British insurance documents and Essien soon realised he would never get a policy to cover his prize belongings if he moved to Liverpool and thus he wisely opted to stay in France.

[[fimg]=left]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20at%20lyon.gif[/[fimg]] PSG actually made the highest offer but Essien preferred Lyon and moved there in the summer of 2003. At Lyon he was given a more defensive midfield role then he had been accustomed to in the past and he excelled in it. In 2003-04 and 2004-05 Lyon won the Ligue 1 title and Essien was voted the 2005 Player of the Year in France.

By now Essien’s stock was as high as a student on a fact finding mission to Colombia and Chelsea were not slow in declaring an interest in signing him. This kick started a transfer saga that seemed to drag more than Paul O’Grady.

[[fimg]=right]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20signs%20for%20chelsea.gif[/[fimg]] Lyon chairman Jean-Michel Aulas was constantly claiming Essien wasn’t for sale for all the money in China, simply because he knew Chelsea had a little more than that. Meanwhile Essien was making it clear he wanted to join Chelsea and was prepared to go on strike if Lyon refused to accept our offer (not a tactic I am particularly keen on players adopting). Eventually a deal was struck for £24.4m, a Chelsea transfer record at the time (now eclipsed by the £30m spent on Shevchenko).

[[fimg]=left]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20tackles%20real%20betis%20munoz%20xisco%20october%202005%20chelsea%204%20betis%200.jpg[/[fimg]] Essien established himself in the Chelsea first team with immediate effect although there were some in his debut season (and I have to admit to being one of them) who were not convinced he was truly top drawer. How gratifying to be proved wrong. The season, although ultimately successful with the title being won, was not to be without controversy for Essien.

A tackle on Hamann in a Champions League clash against Liverpool was to resulting him receiving a two match ban and a lot of bad publicity from the Red Press – red because of the colour of their tops and red because they kiss Liverpool’s arse. Admittedly it was a bad challenge and worthy of a suspension however the reaction to it by the media was farcically over the top – you would have thought it was the first bad tackle in the history of football and you would be forgiven for believing that a Liverpool player would never dream of making such a challenge – Norwich would beg to differ in the case of Hamann and there are a whole plethora of players who would beg to differ in the case of Steven Gerrard. Interestingly Essien himself was to be stretchered off later in the season as a consequence of a particularly unpleasant tackle by West Ham’s Reo-Coker, a tackle that barely raised an eyebrow in the media.

[[fimg]=right]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20against%20rooney%202007%20facup%20final2.gif[/[fimg]] The 2006-07 season was the season when we were to really see the quality and versatility of Essien. In a season cursed by a plague of injuries Chelsea, time and time again, turned to Essien to be a square peg in a round hole. He played centre half, right back, as a holding midfielder, a more orthodox central midfielder, and also featured on the right side of midfield when required.

[[fimg]=left]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20celebrates%20goal%20against%20arsenal.jpg[/[fimg]] Yet not once could you truly say he had a bad game, there was the occasional positional error at centre half through lack of experience but they were few and far between and much more often than not he excelled. In addition to these performances he also chipped in a few crucial and stunning goals, not least being a phenomenal strike from distance against Arsenal (which was to be voted as Chelsea’s Goal of the Season) and the goal that gave Chelsea an impressive 2-1 away win in Valencia in the quarter final of the Champions League.

Essien was voted the BBC African player of the year in 2006 and was to follow that up by being voted Chelsea’s player of the year by the fans at the end of the 2006-07 season. When you consider that he beat Didier Drogba to the honour despite Drogba scoring 33 goals (20 in the league) you realise just how outstanding a performer he was.

[[fimg]=right]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20lifts%20fa%20cup%20may%2020072.gif[/[fimg]] Some half wits will say that Chelsea only getting 2nd spot in the league, Champions League semi finalists, FA Cup winners and League Cup winners in 2006-07 is a disappointing season for Chelsea. When you consider the extensive injuries we suffered throughout the season rational people will realise that it was actually one hell of an achievement – Essien was one of the key reasons we managed it.

Essien started the 2007/08 season by hitting the decisive goal in the 3-2 opening league game win over Birmingham but he picked up an injury in the game which kept him out of the game against Reading and initially threatened to make him miss the grudge match against Liverpool.

He was passed fit for the game at Anfield but disappointingly he was picked at right back rather than in the centre of the park where he would have been better suited to combating the Liverpool midfield. In that game there was minor controversy when it appeared initially that referee Rob Styles had booked Essien twice without sending him off however that was quickly clarified afterwards with Styles confirming that the card he had raised seemingly in the direction of Essien was actually a confirmation of a booking for John Terry.

[[fimg]=left]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien/essien%20against%20city.jpg[/[fimg]] Whether the turmoil behind the scenes at the Bridge with the ongoing deterioration of the relationship between Mourinho and Abramovich, the departure of Mourinho and appointment of Avram Grant played on Essien's mind is something we don't know. However what we do know is that at this time Essien suffered a rare lapse in form and looked a pale shadow of the player he had been in the 2006/07 season.

He returned to form with a bang in the 6-0 demolition of Manchester City, where he scored the opening goal however against Wigan in the following match he was again disappointing and replaced late on by Steve Sidwell. Two games later away at Derby started on the bench, more to provide him with a rest rather than being dropped. He came on in the 75th minute but wasn't to finish the match as he was shown a straight red card for what the ref saw as an elbow to the face of Kenny Miller. Replays showed it was more of an arm than an elbow and thus the red card may have been harsh however in all honesty it was an entirely unnecessary thing to do in the 90th minute of a game we were leading 2-0. A three game suspension followed including missing a massive game away at Arsenal which we narrowly lost 1-0. Essien returned for the games over the festive period and put in a top drawer performance in the 2-0 League Cup Quarter Final win over the Bin Dippers and then got himself on the score sheet in the 2-1 home win over Newcastle. In early January we waved farewell to Essien as he joined Mikel, Kalou and Drogba on their quest for African Cup of Nations glory.

[[fimg]=right]http://www.theshedend.com/fansite/images/Current_Squad/Michael_Essien_2/essien%20carv%20kezman.gif[/[fimg]] Essien made his way to Wembley for the Carling Cup final against Spurs, started the game and then did an amazing disappearing act. That he lasted 88 minutes before being replaced by Ballack was mainly due to fairly inept managing by Grant but also because so many other players were awful that day that it was hard to decide who to hook. He was dropped for the emphatic 4-0 win over West Ham, recalled for the dreadful FA Cup performance against Barnsley, and then relegate to the bench for the 6-1 win over Derby in the league. His wretched run of form resulted in people questioning his future at Chelsea. However anybody with half a brain knew that he had proven time and time again what a talent he was and that you just have to accept dips in form will happen from time to time.

Sure enough his form began to pick up again but before the season was over we were to see him selected at right back on too frequent a basis as Grant tried to accommodate too many central midfielders in his starting eleven. The folly of this tactic was never more apparent than in the Champions League final against Manchester United when Alex Ferguson took advantage of us not having a proper right back on the field and promptly switched Cristiano Ronaldo onto United's left hand side. Far too often Ronaldo was in miles of space and it was on one of these occasions that United took the lead. Now that we have spent big bucks again on Bosingwa it appeared unlikely Scolari will make the same mistake Grant and Mourinho made far too frequently (Scolari however would make a whole load of mistakes of his own).

In the second half of July 2008 Essien followed the example set by Bridge and Cech in the preceding weeks by signing a new five year contract. The news was greeted with delight by Chelsea fans and by manager Scolari who stated "I have not been here long but it is clear to me that Michael Essien is one of the best midfield players in the world"

[[fimg]=left]http://i290.photobucket.com/albums/ll244/loz1905/Essien.gif[/[fimg]] For Essien the season got off to the kind of start that Darren Anderton built a career out of. He missed the opening game through injury and looked well short of fitness in the next two games before limping out of Ghana's World Cup qualifier against Libya on September 5th. It transpired he had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and didn’t return to first team football until early March (against Coventry in the FA Cup) by which time Ancelotti had been sacked and replaced by interim manager Guus Hiddink. It is normal for players returning form long term injuries to take a while to get up to full speed – most players aren’t built like brick sh*t houses.

In his second game back Essien was picked to start the away leg of our champions league away tie at Juventus. He scored. He then made his first league appearance after injury against Man City. He scored again. In May Essien scored a goal against Barcelona in the 2nd leg Champions League tie which was to go on to be voted by the Chelsea fans as the goal of the season. It was a goal fit to win any tie and would have done if not for one of the most disgraceful refereeing performances in football history.

Essien finished the season picking up an FA Cup winners medal as Chelsea beat Everton 2-1.

The summer of 2009 saw some far fetched rumours linking Essien with a move to either Barcelona or Real Madrid. They had as much substance as a Dan Brown novel and the 2009/10 season saw Essien helping us to a Community Shield win over Manchester United.

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