He isn’t a Los Blancos player on merit. Instead, he’s a washed-up midfielder given a chance to revive his career with Real because of José Mourinho’s sentimental feelings for his former Chelsea player.
This article will establish Essien’s errors as a Real player and delve into Mourinho’s relationship with the Ghanaian.
Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid | La Liga
Álvaro Arbeloa is jockeying Alexis Sánchez, Michael Essien doesn’t notice Andrés Iniesta.
Alexis cuts in, passes to Iniesta whose first touch pass nutmegs Xabi Alonso and reaches Martín Montoya. He touches it back to Xavi, the midfield maestro plays a slanted pass to Pedro, who backheels it to Montoya—and the 21-year-old defender curls a shot beyond Iker Casillas’ reach but is denied by the crossbar.
Essien’s lapse in concentration could’ve cost Real Madrid dearly.
Prior to Barcelona’s exquisite tiki-taka football, Essien once again had no idea that Iniesta was lurking behind him.
What on earth is Essien doing? He’s subbed on to consolidate the draw, yet he makes two inexcusable defensive mistakes in only six minutes of play.
It’s unacceptable from the Ghanaian, who knows from firsthand experience how lethal Iniesta is when given an opportunity—6 May, 2009. That day, Essien’s miscued clearance allowed Lionel Messi to pass it to Iniesta and the rest is history.
Ajax 1-4 Real Madrid | UEFA Champions League
The awkward moment when Christian Eriksen makes more tackles than Essien—albeit, the Dane registered one tackle compared to Ghanaian’s zero.
Essien was outsmarted by Eriksen several times.
To cap off a terrible night for Essien, he lost Niklas Moisander during Eriksen’s corner, allowing Ajax to score their only goal.
Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Real Madrid | La Liga
As José Carlos swings in the cross, Essien doesn’t track Andrija Delibasic, who blindsides Pepe for the uncontested header, forcing Iker Casillas into a good reaction save.
From the rebound, Mikel Labaka would’ve scored if not for Alonso’s clearance off the line.
Essien made one tackle and intercepted two passes whereas Rayo's Javi Fuego made nine tackles and accumulated four interceptions.
What does the current version of Michael Essien bring to Real Madrid's midfield? Nothing.
He never had the footballing intelligence of a Esteban Cambiasso, Fernando Redondo or Claude Makélélé because the Ghanaian heavily relied on freakish athleticism.
As Essien's body began to break down, his defensive contributions deteriorated to the point where he's no longer a dominant presence in midfield.
He isn't an elite ball-winner, he isn't a deep-lying play-maker and he is frequently caught out of position.
Another concern is he played his best football for José Mourinho as a box-to-box midfielder. The Only One uses a 4-2-3-1 at Real with two holding midfielders.
Essien doesn't hold his ground because it's not in his nature to do so. Case in point: he was caught up field in the 92nd minute of the recent El Clásico as Barcelona pushed for a winning goal.
WhoScored ||Essien's Tackles Per Game|
|12-13 (La Liga)||0.5|
* Statistics courtesy of Opta's Duncan Alexander.
Michael Essien considers José Mourinho "daddy" which goes to show how influential the Portuguese manager has been in the Ghanaian's life.
When Essien had just signed for Chelsea, Mourinho went out of his way to praise the former Lyon player because the Special One knew he had a special midfielder:
We believe he is the best we can get for that position. He can play in every midfield position and that is important. He speaks French, speaks perfect English and has an empathy with the African players which makes it very easy for him to adapt.—19 August, 2005
Michael was my man-of-the-match. He was too strong for them. He won every challenge in midfield and brought a different pace to the game. He was crucial in our first and third goals and was far too powerful for Betis.—20 October, 2005
I think he was the best Chelsea player. I don't like to analyse football this way because I am a coach of a team, I like teams to play well or to be responsible for good things. But then I have to analyse individually and I think his performance was the most consistent over the 90 minutes.—24 November, 2005
Essien put his body on the line every game, was willing to play as an emergency right-back and was such a pivotal piece in Mourinho's pragmatic Chelsea side.
5 years and 10 months ago, Arsenal were six minutes away from breaking Chelsea's 51-game unbeaten home streak in the Premier League.
Up stepped Essien.
Then there was Quique Flores' Valencia side with great players like Santiago Cañizares, Roberto Ayala, David Albelda, David Silva, Joaquín, Fernando Morientes and David Villa.
Who scored a last minute winner in the second leg? Essien.
Mourinho hasn't forgotten and with the Ghanaian's career in limbo, the Special One negotiated a loan deal to bring Essien to Madrid.
It's not the first time that Mourinho has arranged a sentimental loan transfer.
Maniche was an important member of José Mourinho's UEFA Champions League winning Porto side.
Though that's probably not the first thing that comes to José's mind when he thinks about Maniche.
The midfielder was pro Mourinho during the manager's bittersweet experience with Benfica—at the time, José was still a nobody.
With Maniche's spell at Dynamo Moscow going horribly wrong, the Special One gave his former player a temporary exit route with a loan deal to Chelsea.
He [Mourinho] became more of a friend than a boss. I've never seen that kind of closeness from another coach in all the years I've been a footballer.
The midfielder looked out of his depth in the Premier League.
He couldn't cope with Fábio Rochemback, who inspired Middlesbrough to an astonishing 3-0 win.
There was the reckless tackle on Lionel Scaloni which saw Maniche sent off only 17 minutes into the game against West Ham United—the Blues still won 4-1.
Maniche was schooled by Tugay as Blackburn Rovers won 1-0.
Michael Essien's loan spell with Real Madrid is eerily similar to Chelsea signing Maniche on loan.
Coincidentally, Maniche was signed as cover for Essien.
Back then, it was bewildering to watch the Blues carry Maniche, who loafed around—Essien is the same for Real.
Don't be surprised if Sergio Ramos starts questioning Mourinho's tactical nous should Essien continue to receive game time.