Michael Essien is one of those rare examples of a player who is universally admired by virtually every soccer fan. His hard-working approach and quality on the ball helped endear him to supporters of every club he played for and, quite often, the opposing ones too.
Known as “The Bison”, the Ghanaian powerhouse is considered one of his country’s finest ever exports and he has enjoyed a huge amount of success at the top level.
Born in Accra, Essien began his career turning out for the Liberty Professionals, who were his local club at the time. He was spotted by European scouts representing his country at under-17 level, who noted his energetic and influential presence at the back.
After an unsuccessful trial at Manchester United, he was recruited by Bastia and, despite not featuring regularly for the Corsican outfit, a sudden injury crisis forced him into midfield, where his performances began to improve and he was soon a regular starter.
He made his international debut in 2002 and signed for Lyon just 12 months later, helping them to a third consecutive league title.
Essien was deployed largely as a defensive midfielder at this stage of his career but was regularly witnessed driving his team forward and was rarely shy about firing in an effort from distance.
Essien continued to impress at Lyon and his performances in the Champions League prompted Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho to make the midfielder his number one target.
The Blues were forced to break their transfer record in order to secure the signing of the sought-after Ghanaian, splashing out £26 million for his services.
He was drafted in as a replacement for Tiago, who had endured a largely underwhelming spell in West London.
Mourinho wanted an all-action, ball-playing box-to-box midfielder and Essien fitted the bill. He slotted straight into the side and helped his new teammates clinch a second successive Premier League title.
He was voted as the club’s player of the season in 2006/07 and his thunderous finish against Arsenal still remains one of the greatest ever strikes in the history of the Premier League.
It was voted ‘Goal of the Season’ and, whilst famous finishes against Blackburn and Barcelona in the Champions League will also be fondly replayed for many years to come, the precision of his arrowing effort remains tough to beat.
He was never able to recapture his best form following a cruciate-ligament injury in 2008 yet he still remained one of the club’s classiest players and was always a force to be reckoned with in the centre of the park.
Very few opposition players were able to find a way past him and he also possessed the ability to put in a goal-saving challenge without conceding a needless set-piece.
Many fans believe the club have failed to adequately replace Essien following his departure and, despite the presence of the classy N’golo Kante, very few players have showcased the ability to cover such an inordinate amount of ground and remain hugely effective at both ends of the pitch.
Today the Blues, under the stewardship of Antonio Conte are aiming for a top-four finish at the end of the 2017/2018 season.
However, hopes are not too high as evidenced by the odds presented by bookmakers across the country, giving 5th-6th position odds.
After an inconsistent spell, Chelsea finally got back on track in February as they continue their battle to secure one of the Champions League spots.
Needless to say, fans would give anything to have a warrior like Michael Essien to help ensure they don’t fall short of that target.
Michael Essien was reunited with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid in 2012 and, despite not being able to command a regular starting position, he still played a crucial part in his side’s progress in both the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey.
He spent a year on loan at Milan, clocking up twenty appearances for the Serie A giants before spells at Panathinaikos and, more recently, Persib Bandung, where he scored five goals in 29 appearances.
Unfortunately, he has endured an injury-prone spell in Indonesia.
He appeared for Ghana at the 2006 World Cup and was able to replicate his Premier League form on the international stage.
Alongside Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, his combative style helped fire the Black Stars into the last 16, which was a remarkable feat considering it was his side’s debut at the tournament.
He played a huge part in putting Ghanaian football back on the map and, despite suffering from numerous injury problems, he was still able to help them qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, he wasn’t deemed fit enough to appear in South Africa but his presence and experience was undoubtedly a huge influence on the squad.
Essien commanded respect from almost every set of supporters with many opposition fans secretly wishing their club had forked out to sign “the Bison”.
He was hugely influential in West London and there have been very few box-to-box midfielders who have ever come close to matching his exploits in the Premier League.
His power and energy were unrivalled and his presence on the pitch was absolutely vital to Chelsea’s success throughout the mid-2000s.
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