Michael Essien. The name that used to strike fear in opposition players. The name that used to give headaches to opposition managers. The name that every manager wanted to have on his squad list.
Born in the capital of Ghana, Michael Essien started his professional Football career at local team Liberty Professionals. His energetic performance in the 1999 U17 World cup caught the eye of many Clubs with Manchester United even offering him a trial.
In 2000, however, Essien joined French Club Bastia and made a name for himself in the 3 years he played there. Soon, Lyon came knocking and Essien joined them in 2003.
And this is where Michael Essien was turned into an all-action box-to-box midfielder from a holding midfielder by then Lyon manager Paul Le Guen. Playing as a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-3-1-2 formation, Essien gave some of the finest performances which saw his ‘daddy’, Jose Mourinho, sign him for Chelsea for a then Club record £24.4m.
This is where the world saw him play at his full potential.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were known for their defensive astuteness, no holds barred type approach and quick counter-attacks – Michael Essien was a perfect fit for a team like this. It was his ruthless approach that took a lot of burden from Carvalho and Terry’s shoulders.
He was the one who would win the ball and initiate the attack for Chelsea and then make those quick box-runs to distract opposition defenders for his team-mates, or himself, to score. His right-footed shots were like bullets coming out from a gun; unstoppable for the ‘keeper – he scored a lot of long range beauties this way.
For 5 years, he terrorized the Premier League, but then in 2010 AFCON; the terrible happened. The beast fell; so hard that it took him 2 years to recover from his knee injury.
But The Bison wasn’t looking like the player he once was.
August 31, 2012. 20 minutes left for the transfer window to close. Suddenly, there were rumours flying all around of Essien joining Real Madrid and Lass leaving for Anzhi. Most discarded it as false rumour, but just 5 minutes after the window officially closed, Chelsea announced that Essien had signed for Real on loan.
Almost everyone were in shock; no-one saw that coming. Some Madridistas were even worried about his capture since he is not even the shadow of the player he once was. However, this deal is not as bad as some might think. In fact, it could be the complete opposite.
It was under Mourinho that Michael Essien played his best Football, now he unites with him again. The Only One is well known to bring the best out of his players – just ask Benzema. The French hitman was struggling to find his feet at Real, but once Mou came in, Benzema’s true capabilities were revealed.
The same could happen with Essien. The cases of Essien and Benzema aren’t so different, with only difference being that Benzema had a psychological problem and Essien has both psychological and fitness problem, but Mou would want the outcome to be same as it was with Benzema – to get Essien back to his best.
Essien himself claimed that he is ready to compete and he wouldn’t have signed for Real if he wasn’t sure of delivering his best. If Essien’s words are to be believed, we have a player who is not injured, but is just lacking match fitness.
With playing time, match fitness will eventually return. And the psychological problem will be dealt by Mou – just like he did with Benzema. Some might think that if Mou was such a good psychologist, why couldn’t he remove Sahin’s psychological problem. As Mou indirectly indicated; Sahin wasn’t strong enough mentally.
The same is not the case with Essien, however, as he has already shown us what a determined character he is. He not only used to perform like a machine on the field, but also had the never-give-up-until-the-very-end attitude. And don’t forget, Essien is just 29 and would have been at his peak now if it weren’t for injuries.
If Mourinho can get Essien back to his best, then we will have a player who is dedicated and hardworking towards his profession.
As players, Granero and Essien are incomparable; both are totally different players. However, as professionals, they are both very similar.
When Real Madrid sold Granero to QPR, they not only sold a good player, but they also sold a player who was, as Mourinho said, the hardest worker at the training ground. Such dedication made him a favourite amongst Madridistas.
In Michael Essien, we are getting a similar professional – a hard-working player whose dedication will motivate his team-mates to work hard as well.
Would give us more options in midfield…
Whether being a starter ahead of Khedira or playing in a trivote with Khedira and Xabi/Modric; a fully fit Michael Essien gives Mourinho a lot of tactical ploys to use.
Away from home against stronger teams, where we need to defend a lead, Mou can play Sami, Essien and Xabi in the midfield and let Essien and Sami take turns to go forward. We have all seen what Sami Khedira and Michael Essien can do going forward – I don’t need to elaborate on that.
This trivote will not only contain the pressure against teams who press a lot, but will also quickly initiate counter-attack due to the presence of 2 box-to-box midfielders – with one of them making a quick run forward – and a playmaker in it to initiate the counter-attack.
As we don’t play many stronger teams than ourselves, this trivote won’t be used as much and only one of Sami and Essien will feature alongside Xabi Alonso. Right now, Sami Khedira is definitely ahead of Essien in the pecking order, but if Essien shows any signs of getting back at his best, Sami Khedira’s indispensability in the starting XI could be in danger.
Is a leader…
This is a fact. In his time as a Football player, he has always been a leader on the pitch – be it in his learning days at Bastia or in his peak years at Chelsea; Michael Essien’s vivid leadership skills were always visible for all of us to see.
There are some players who are born with this ability – Essien is one of them. When a team is losing and the time is running out, it is a stubborn leader whose never-say-die attitude lifts the whole team up and builds the foundation of a comeback.
Real have a lot of leaders in the team – Cristiano, Xabi Alonso, Casillas & Ramos, to be precise – and adding one more to that list just makes it better. With more characters like these, the mental strength of the team increases as a whole and it becomes a lot harder to beat a mentally strong team.
The more the merrier, they say.
Apart from being a beast of midfielder, when fully fit, he is also quite good at playing on the right hand side of the pitch. At Chelsea, he was, at times, used at right-back or right-midfield.
Real Madrid have 2 quality players in each position, apart from right-back; where we only have Arbeloa. At times, Arbeloa looks exhausted and easily out-run by his direct opponent. Arbeloa is a good right-back, but needs someone to help him out in defense – especially when he is playing his second game in the same week.
Here is where Essien’s versatility comes into play.
Mourinho could rotate Arbeloa and Essien for the right-back role. Last season, Lass played some games at right-back and did well there, but Arbeloa remained the first choice. This season, the case might be the same with Essien filling in the void when Arbeloa is tired and needs rest.
Essien hasn’t played on a streak for a long time and thus it is yet to be seen how he can cope at right-back, but as the saying goes ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’; so I back Essien to do well here as well.
Essien is Essien. And, even though he has not been even half as good as he once was, I expect him to flourish once again under his ‘daddy’, Mourinho. Again, Essien is 29 and still has the time to get back to his best. If he doesn’t, we have Pepe and Varane to save the day; but if he does – which I believe he will – then only God Himself can stop Real from winning titles this season.
Published with permission from realmadridinfo.