But with a midfield already loaded with talent, where exactly does Essien fit into the Blues' current plans?
Probably just where he was on Sunday at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea’s league opener against Hull City—sitting patiently on the bench waiting to be used in a reserve defensive role.
Against the Tigers, Mourinho had just one real defender he could use as a substitute—Essien—with David Luiz, César Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand all unavailable for various reasons.
Now that’s not to say that the 30-year-old Ghanaian international won’t get a number of starts this year for Chelsea, but with newcomer Marco van Ginkel, Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel and Ramires all more likely to get starts in the central midfield for the Blues, Essien should fill the role as a defensive closer who is subbed in late in matches to preserve leads.
Essien, who has two years left on his Chelsea contract, was out on loan at La Liga heavyweight Real Madrid last season, where he was reunited with his former manager and mentor Mourinho with no guarantee that he would ever return to West London and be part of the storied club’s future plans.
With a number of knee injuries and his advancing age slowing his effectiveness as a player, Essien—a 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year nominee—likely would not have been part of the Blues' current system unless Mourinho returned to the team and was able to call the shots.
After it was confirmed in May that The Special One would indeed return to Chelsea, the 50-year-old Portuguese boss made it perfectly clear to Essien that he would return to the English Premier League with him, according to a story in the Daily Mail.
“When I scored my last goal for Real Madrid on the last day of the season, I ran over to celebrate with him and was expecting him to congratulate me when I hugged him,” wrote Essien in his blog on the club’s website.
“Instead he leaned over and said: ‘See you at preseason training on July 8.’ I found that so funny.”
Essien, who originally came to Chelsea in 2005 from Ligue 1’s Lyon for £24.4 million, scored a goal in Mourinho's last Los Blancos match against Osasuna.
Although he could probably be employed for Chelsea as a defender, the 5’10”, 188-pound Essien—who is a strong tackler with an above-average shot—will probably be used primarily as a box-to-box midfielder and will provide depth in the defensive midfield.
At the Bernabéu last season, Essien, who is nicknamed The Bison, proved he is far from washed-up or a guy still suffering from knee problems, as he started 31 games in all competitions for the Supercopa de España champions.
And as much as Essien is extremely happy to be back in the fold now for the Europa League champions, so are his old teammates.
‘'He seems to be back to the real Michael Essien,” goalkeeper Petr Čech said in a story in the Daily Mail:
He’s always been a fantastic player and the only unlucky things were the injuries. He’s back and if he stays fit then it will be great to have him.
It was a great thing for him to happen, to go on loan last year and enjoy a great season with Real Madrid. He was unlucky with back-to-back injuries and he had to work very hard to come back.
That loan made sure he played more than he could have played and, as you can see, he’s happy, he’s back, he’s fit and he will be very useful for us.
How useful? And where will he play? Only time will tell, but by the seemingly constant smile plastered on Essien’s face of late, he is in top spirits and happy to do whatever he can to help Chelsea evolve into the type of club it envisions it can become over the next couple of years.
And nobody knows better how to use Essien—who helped the Blues win a Premier League championship in 2006 with Mourinho—and where he can best help the club than the new Chelsea manager.
“We all know he is not a 20-year-old boy anymore. We all know he went through a very difficult period with his injury but he’s a fantastic player and the kind of player in this profile of squad, a squad of many, many, many talented kids, we need to give us balance,” Mourinho said in the same Daily Mail story.
“I know Michael better than anybody else. I know he can play in every position apart from goalkeeper and striker, so he will be very useful to us.”
So using Essien as a defender or even in the advanced midfield, given the situation, is a definite possibility. And if one of Chelsea’s starting back four was hurt against Hull City, no doubt the versatile Essien would have been his replacement.
And with UEFA Champions League play on the horizon as well as several other unique matches and tournaments, having a guy like Essien to call on is a nice little luxury to have, and both Chelsea fans and teammates alike are certainly glad he’s now back in royal blue.
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