The rise and fall of Michael Essien
I watched that goal he scored live against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on television a few years back. One of my favourite all-time goals; not just because of who it was scored against or what was riding on the game for both sides, but the build-up play from Chelsea in an initiated attack that had been broken down by the Spanish defence, then recovered, and an audacious cheeky (to say the least) flick-up from Frank Lampard allowed Essien to run in and unleash a thunderous left foot shot that would rocket the ball in off the crossbar. A crowd reaction from the Bridge support equalled the ferocity of the shot in an uproar, commentators screaming down their microphones as the Ghanaian international had given the Blues the lead in emotional fashion. When the game had not even passed the hour mark. I leapt from my seat and screamed at the top of my lungs, as I had witnessed a truly magnificent goal – “Gooooooaaaaal!”
Neighbours from next door heard the full volume of the TV screen and my even louder voice, but I cared not. As from that very moment on in watching Essien and his team-mates huddle in celebration that what he had done would be the epitome of how important that he had been that season for Chelsea. In that midfield as a ball-winner, slash box-to-box player, no goal he would score again in his entire professional career would ever reach the sort of altitude that he had just set. By far a goal that is much better seen live and unknowingly than watched over and over again. Believe me when I say that I have tried. It is just not the same. You expect it if you have seen it before and it still has great power to move you when watched, but you can never recapture that feeling again – because it was just that good.
I will say that it was unfortunate for that to be pushed back into reality from a semi-conscious state, still dreary from the goal, when Andres Iniesta a goal of higher importance, sending Barcelona through and staging the 2009 UEFA Champions League final in Rome between the Catalans, La Liga victors over Real Madrid, and the English champions of that year, Manchester United. United could not seal back-to-back European titles that year, as heartbreak often engulfs your heart, but years on, your mind drifts back to that memorable moment. Does it not?
But since then it has just been a torrid time for Mr. Michael Essien. Hampered by injuries and inconsistent form, now having gone through five different managers since Mourinho’s departure from the club in 2007 – two years prior to the goal – and the addition of new faces to the side in the Spanish youngster Oriol Romeu and the up-and-coming English prospect Josh McEachran, space for the former Lyon midfield combatant seems stifled. News that he had played an hour and fifteen minutes in a reserve game against West Bromwich Albion seems uplifting, as he returns from the knee injury suffered in the summer that kept him out of travelling with the Chelsea team to Asia, and also reminds of Portuguese tactician Andre Villas-Boas of his presence. Almost forgotten amongst the Chelsea ranks as he always seems to be a couple steps behind everyone else as the injuries he suffers hold him back.
But in his heyday, he was remarkable, wasn’t he? A staunch figure marauding through the centre of the pitch in that blue shirt clasping his chest and the ball at his feet, it seemed he would never really get tired of doing so. Up and down the pitch, from box to box, nicknamed “The Bison” as he resembled the beastly figure, and formerly regarded as the only true box-to-box midfielder in the Premier League. Although times have changed with the uprising of Manchester City and the arrival of Yaya Toure to jostle Essien off the dignified footballing platform, the media seemed to laud Essien with praise and accolades to suit his animalistic stature.
Of course with that came the ability for him to chip in with a goal or two; reminding many of the goal he scored against Arsenal at the Bridge in typical London derby fashion that even had Andy Gray sitting back, mesmerised. Shot from outside of the box that glided past every player and into the bottom left corner – it was a great goal. But nobody seems to recognise him anymore as the gutsy ball winner he once reminisced.
Even the Ghanaian national team have been forced to move on without him, instinctively building a new and youthful side in the absence of their former leader and captain with the inclusion of the Ayew brothers from Marseille, Isaac Vorsah of Germany’s TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Udinese’s Kwadwo Asamoah and the silent Anthony Annan who resides in Holland with Eredivisie Vitesse Arnhem. Currently on loan from the Bundesliga in Schalke 04. Chelsea fans used to put their heads in their hands come January when it meant that they would be missing two of their most important African players in Essien and the other, Didier Drogba – no more. Drogba having not started to ‘get on’ with his turning of football’s elderly age and Essien’s disappearance from the first and national team makes it seem that the African Cup Of Nations is no longer a time to fret, but to take advantage of those who are without – exampling City without the Toure duo. Since the Black Stars’ “reformation” and their progress post-2010 FIFA World Cup, they have looked strong and most likely the most dominant African national team out there. Whilst Cameroon and Nigeria failed to qualify in intriguing fashion – meaning that the likes of Arsenal’s Alex Song and Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel will stay in London throughout the turning of the new year – Ghana have the last eleven standing in what should be an interesting and exciting ACON this year to kick off international competitions throughout 2012, as many look forward to the UEFA European Championships being held by Poland and Ukraine in the summer.
Whilst you can talk about Michael Essien’s accolades and individual awards (2006 BBC African Footballer of the Year, part of the 2008 African Cup of Nations ‘Team of the Tournament’, twice in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year during his Lyon days in both 2003 and 2005, as well as Chelsea’s 2007 Player of the Year; nominated as the 2005 UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Year and twice having won the Chelsea Goal of the Season in the games against Arsenal and Barcelona – 2006-07 and 2008-09) talk is usually scuppered, as he wallows in Chelsea’s tertiary division of a team. The man who once helped his former club capture a succession of league titles during the turn of the Millennium, he could, sadly, be called a shadow of his former self. The £24.4million paid for him seemed worth it and was going to be part of the furniture at Stamford Bridge for a long time, but it seems now, somewhat almost three years since, he may well be looking to play elsewhere very soon. Maybe even to try and get back into the Ghanaian national team. Chelsea cannot recoup the money paid for him for sure, but if nurtured well and kept in good condition as he recovers from a succession of long-term injuries, he could do a job for any Premier League side – if that, any European club, just needs the chance is all.