Michael Essien is a hard-working central-midfielder for Ghana and Chelsea in the English Premier League. He has been described as the ‘heart-beat’ of Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea side and the Blues seriously miss him when he doesn’t feature. Essien has the ability to play in any position on the pitch, but is at his best in defensive positions, where his lung-busting work-rate and determination can help destroy the opposition’s attacks.
Essien was born on December 3rd 1982 in Accra, Ghana, and learnt the football basics whilst playing on the dusty streets – often getting tips from passers by who stopped to watch him play! He was educated at college, helping the team to new heights, and was then signed up by the Ghanaian side Liberty Professionals. His performances for them ensured him a spot in the Ghana national youth side, effectively putting himself in the shop-window when he played for the young Black Stars in New Zealand in 1999.
It was the French club Bastia who realised his potential first, signing him in July 2000. As a young 18 year old he was given a chance to settle in at the club, playing mainly as a substitute in left and right-back positions, but he was finally given his chance in the centre of midfield, and received some rave reviews. With his tough-tackling and conservative passing winning him plaudits, and comparisons to Patrick Vieira, Essien was soon on the radar of many of the big clubs in France, and Europe.
Michael opted to play for Lyon, in spite of offers from Paris Saint Germain, because he thought he had more chance of playing games there. Aged just 21, Essien was installed into the championship winning side, and led the team to another two titles in Le Championnat before agreeing to a big-money move.
Michael Essien became the most expensive African footballer on August 19th 2005, when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea paid Lyon £25m for him. Manchester United were also interested but couldn’t match Chelsea’s offer. It wasn’t long before Essien had made himself one of the ‘untouchables’ in the centre of Chelsea’s midfield – taking the place of Claude Makelele as the defensive midfielder. He was Jose’s favourites and was also acknowledged by the fans as one of their key men – he was voted their Player of the Year at the end of his second season in 2007, in which he added the English Premier League title to his haul.
Essien remains a key component of Chelsea’s team. He has been used in all the defensive positions across the back line by the Blues, but is missed whenever he doesn’t play as Chelsea’s metronome in the middle of the park. Felipe Scolari would love to have Essien back to full fitness, but it seems that Michael will miss most of the 2008/09 season with a cruciate ligament injury he picked up whilst playing for Ghana.
Michael Essien was first given his chance of a move to Europe by his participation in the 1999 Youth World Cup, and he has since played at all levels for Ghana. He won praise for his performances at the Youth tournaments, and was called up to the full squad when he was just 20 years old, in the African Nations Cup 2002.
Essien helped Ghana to the World Cup 2006, and excelled at the 2008 African Nations, when he captained the Black Stars for the first time on the way to a successful run to the Semi Finals.