Essien heads the herd

Published : Jul 11, 2009 00:00 IST



His extraordinary versatility has seen the African footballer star at right-back, left-back and in central defence, as well as in his favoured marauding midfield role, writes Emma Barrow.

Michael Essien, the most expensive African footballer of all time, is known to his countrymen as ‘The Bison’. And while his stampeding displays are certainly worthy of such a tag, it is his ability to trample the opposition from any area of the pitch that really sets him apart.

His extraordinary versatility has seen Essien star at right-back, left-back and in central defence, as well as in his favoured marauding midfield role. Consequently, he has more than lived up to the hefty transfer fee paid by Jose Mourinho to Lyon (GBP24.4 million) in order to secure the Ghanaian’s services for Chelsea in 2005.

Essien began his career at Liberty Professionals, a local club in his native Ghana, but his talents were more widely recognised at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championships in New Zealand.

Having attracted the attention of a number of European scouts, he completed a trial at Manchester United in April 2000 before joining French club Bastia in July of that year. It was there that he first demonstrated his famous adaptability, playing in both defence and midfield.

In the 2002/03 season, his six goals helped Bastia qualify for the UEFA Cup, and French giants Paris St. Germain, Lyon and Marseille all came clamouring for his signature. Following a GBP7.8 million move to Lyon, Essien found himself making regular appearances in a defensive midfield role. Hugely influential in the successful Ligue 1 campaigns of 2003/04 and 2004/05, he was voted as the country’s Player of the Year by France’s National Union of Professional Footballers in 2005.

After a long-running transfer saga, he finally completed a move to Chelsea in August 2005. The huge fee made him the most expensive African player of all time, just topping the GBP24 million the Blues had paid for Didier Drogba the previous summer.

His first season in London was a title-winning one. Essien quickly established himself as a first-team regular and fans’ favourite, with a last-gasp winning goal against Tottenham among the highlights of his debut year in the Barclays English Premier League.

The following season, the midfielder cemented his reputation for scoring memorable goals, with his late winner in the UEFA Champions League away tie at Valencia sending Chelsea through to the semifinals.

Despite eventually losing out in Europe and the Premier League, a Carling Cup and FA Cup double provided some consolation for Mourinho’s side. For the third year running, Essien was nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year Award and the Ballon d’Or, as well as being runner-up in the African Player of the Year voting.

The 2007/08 season was another prolific campaign for the Ghanaian, despite the departure of Mourinho. He scored the winner as Chelsea defeated Birmingham to set a new English record for unbeaten league matches at home and, at the end of the campaign, signed a new five-year deal, securing his future at Chelsea until 2013.

The second-half of 2008 was not such a happy affair for Essien, though. His outstanding performances at the African Cup of Nations propelled Ghana to the semifinals, but he sustained a serious injury while playing a World Cup qualifier in September. He was expected to miss the remainder of the season, but recovered in time to feature in the Champions League and help Chelsea win the FA Cup under popular interim manager Guus Hiddink.

Essien’s 2008/09 season was blighted by injury and European heartbreak. Cruciate ligament damage kept him out for over six months, but he was fit to help Chelsea in the latter part of their Champions League campaign. His stunning left-footed volley against Barcelona at the semifinal stage looked to have won the Blues a place in the final for the second successive year, until Barcelona scored a decisive goal in injury time to ruin the party.

Since his arrival at Chelsea, Essien has, amongst others, been linked with Ghanaian actress Nadia Buari, but it is believed he is currently unattached.

The midfielder drives a Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8 HSE.

FactfileName: Michael EssienPosition: MidfielderClub: ChelseaD.O.B.: 03/12/82Ghana caps: 43Ghana goals: 8Ghana debut: January 4, 2002 v EgyptMoment to remember

Essien helped Chelsea conserve their long unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge with an extraordinary late equaliser against Arsenal in December 2006. His strike was voted ‘Goal of the Season’ by Chelsea fans, while his tireless performances and ability to play in a number of positions also won him the Chelsea ‘Player of the Year’ award.

Moment to forget

Playing in his first World Cup in 2006, Essien helped Ghana become the only African team to qualify from the group stages. However, he was suspended for his country’s last-16 tie with Brazil and had to watch from the sidelines as they were beaten 3-0.

© PA Sport, 2009, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

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