The muscular frame of Michael Essien, his box-to-box prowling and the menacing nature of his 100 per cent effort has made Ghana’s current midfield king a genuine world footballing star. He is certainly on the same level as the west African country’s previous greats like Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah and without doubt is the most popular figure in his own country. Essien is also the vital engine of his country’s national team as well as a major conduit of the hopes of top English premier league club Chelsea.
Now 27-years-old, Essien has already amassed a veritable trophy chest of winners’ medals including two championships in France and one in the English premier league and cup success with his London club as well. His 26-million pound transfer to England in 2005 was a Chelsea record and still stands as the record for a move involving an African international, one million pounds more than Manchester City paid for Togo’s Emmanuel Adebayor before last season. Essien earned an instant international profile as Africa’s most expensive footballer when he moved to Chelsea, having just two months earlier engineered his side’s qualification to their first-ever FIFA World Cup™ finals. Essien’s trademark prowling of the midfield, long-range passing abilities and the timing of his late incursions into the penalty area, which resulted in him claiming a late goal, is what galvanised Ghana to a surprise 2-0 away win over group leaders South Africa in Johannesburg and saw them take over the wheel on the road to Germany 2006.
Essien is something of a reluctant star, catapulted into the world spotlight after Chelsea badgered Olympique Lyonnaise for his transfer at the start of the 2005/06 season, eventually getting their man after lengthy negotiations. As a youngster, it was his mother who had to persuade him to leave home to train with Ghana’s U-17 side, which he represented at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Zealand in 1999. That led to a trial at Manchester United but Essien was not signed, though he did leave Old Trafford with a David Beckham autograph. After idling for several months in his agent’s apartment in Monaco, Essien signed for Bastia in France and three seasons later moved to Lyon, where he won successive Ligue 1 titles in 2004 and 2005 and was also voted as France’s best player. His national career started in the deep end at the 2002 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Mali but after an anonymous start he has proved the bedrock of the team.
At Chelsea, he was a champion again in his first very first season, playing a taxing 41 games. Since then he has also won two FA Cup winners’ medals, and for the last five years he has been named as one of the three finalists for the African Footballer of the Year award, although he has never won it. Essien has this year been sidelined with a knee injury, which saw him play just 45 minutes of the Nations Cup tournament in Angola, where the Black Stars got to the final without him. Two years earlier, he had been their key player as they reached the semi-finals on home soil.