The 10 Best Moments of Michael Essien's Career
Michael Essien’s career as an elite competitor at one of Europe’s major clubs looks to have come to an end. The Ghanaian has struggled to make an impact at Milan since arriving at the beginning of the year, making only seven league appearances as the Rossoneri finished in lowly eighth place.
Goal.com’s Edmund Okai Gyimah has reported that Turkish side Trabzonspor started talks with the midfielder following Ghana’s disappointing, controversy-riddled showing at the 2014 World Cup, and a move looks imminent.
In this feature, Bleacher Report looks back over the 10 greatest moments in Essien’s illustrious career, in chronological order.
Ghana Debut (2002)
Essien, then of Corsican side Bastia, made his Ghana debut in January 2002 against Egypt in an international friendly, before making his competitive debut at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations against Morocco.
Already, there were great expectations for the midfielder; the previous year, he had starred at the 2002 FIFA World Youth Championship, guiding the Black Satellites to the final where they were defeated by a Javier Saviola-inspired Argentina.
Of that youth side, John Pantsil, John Mensah, Derek Boateng, Sulley Muntari and Essien, among others, would go on to become household names and guide the West African side to World Cup qualification.
While Essien has accrued 57 international caps in the intervening years, it’s fair to say that his international career has been riddled with disappointment.
He missed out on the 2010 World Cup (and Ghana’s magnificent run to the quarter-final) through injury, and neither he nor the other stars from the 2001 generation have managed to win the African title.
1st League Title (2004)
In truth, there are several moments of Essien’s time at Lyon that could have graced this list.
The midfielder scored only five minutes into his OL debut, opening the scoring against Auxerre in the Trophee des Champions match. Eighty-five minutes later, Essien had his first honour in French football.
Similarly, he also made his Champions League debut as an OL player, won the French Player of the Year award and received his first World Player of the Year nomination.
At the Stade Gerland, he played as part of a magnificent collective, and while he contributed more to Lyon’s 2005 league triumph, I would argue that, for a young player at the beginning of his career, that first league victory, in 2004, was the most important.
Essien featured in the match that gave Lyon the title (a 3-0 home victory over Lille) and scored three goals during his maiden Ligue 1 season on the Rhone.
The £24.4 Million Man (2005)
In August 2005, Chelsea and Lyon agreed a fee of £24.4 million for the tenacious midfielder. The confirmation of the deal must have come as great relief to Essien, as it ended an extensive (and often fraught) transfer saga.
Similarly, the fee—the most paid for an African player ever—not only confirmed Essien’s place as one of the most devastating players in the world game, coming as acknowledgement for his excellent time in France, it also catapulted him into one of the most dominant English teams of recent memory.
Essien joined a title-winning team, becoming Chelsea’s then-most expensive signing in the process. He went on to add a new dimension to the Blues midfield.
World Cup 2006: The Last 16
Essien helped Ghana qualify for their first World Cup in 2006. While the Black Stars were delighted to have made the tournament, optimism was dampened by a particularly tough first-round draw.
Ghana applied themselves well, but they lost the opener to Italy (who went on to become world champions) before securing a first-ever World Cup win against dark horses Czech Republic in Cologne.
While Essien, playing alongside Stephen Appiah, was in explosive form up against Pavel Nedved in this match, the following fixture, against the United States, was arguably an even greater moment.
Essien, playing at the base of the midfield, delivered a masterclass and helped the Black Stars first control the game and then secure the victory. In the process, he helped to guide the West Africans to the knockout stage. His performance was described by the BBC as follows: “Essien's role in the battle for midfield supremacy was pivotal to Ghana's hopes.”
As 2006 drew to a close, Essien could look back on a magnificent year. He had won the Premier League and guided Ghana to the last 16 of the World Cup.
To round things off, he was celebrated in several end-of-year awards—further confirmation of his burgeoning talent and devastating ability to decide contests and inspire those around him.
He was nominated for both the 2006 Ballon d’Or and the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year award, he came third in CAF’s African Footballer of the Year award and was named BBC African Footballer of the Year.
It was apt celebration and recognition for one of the continent’s star performers.
Player of the Season and 'That Goal' (2007)
At the end of the 2006-07 season, Essien was honoured as Chelsea’s player of the season—the first African player to win the award.
Soon after this prize, things began to unravel for the Ghanaian as a series of injuries took away his edge.
During this campaign, though, he was fantastic; the highlight, perhaps, being this wonder goal scored against Arsenal.
Not only was the finish perfection, the goal was important too, both in terms of timing (it came in the 84th minute) and in consequence (it was a late equaliser that stole a point from local rivals Arsenal.)
It was the first of two Chelsea Goal of the Season awards that Essien would win during his time at Stamford Bridge.
The Record-Breaker (2007)
At the beginning of the season, Chelsea were seeking to add another record to their list of accolades. Should they beat Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge, they would break a Liverpool record that had stood for a quarter of a century—a run of 63 games unbeaten at home.
It was Essien’s goal, powered home in the 50th minute from the edge of the box after latching onto a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross, that gave Mourinho the victory he was looking for to take Bob Paisley’s record.
Two months later, Essien was once again nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, the Ballon d’Or and the African Footballer of the Year award.
No doubt Mourinho would have endorsed these acknowledgements!
Essien vs. Barcelona (2009)
In context, Essien’s goal against Barcelona in the 2009 semi-final doesn’t mean too much. Andres Iniesta’s late equaliser saw the Catalonians through, and the match was largely overshadowed by the post-match fiasco of vehement Chelsea complaints towards the referee.
However, the Ghanaian’s thunderbolt on the ninth minute deserves its moment in the sun both for its technical quality and for the fact that, for 81 minutes, it looked to have seen the Blues through to their second-consecutive Champions League final.
The goal was voted as Chelsea’s 2009 Goal of the Season; it was a finish worthy of winning the Champions League, let alone of gracing an ill-fated semi-final.
2011-12 Champions League Winner
Admittedly, Essien didn’t play in the 2012 Champions League final; he was an unused substitute as Chelsea bested Bayern Munich on penalties at the Allianz Arena.
Nonetheless, having delivered a fine performance in Chelsea’s losing effort in the 2008 edition, and having been present for several of the Blues’ ill-fated appearances in the tournament’s semi-finals, this must have felt like the final rite of passage for the superb Blues team constructed by Mourinho in the middle of the last decade.
In claiming a Champions League winner’s medal, Essien became one of only 16 African players to have won Europe’s top prize.
Egypt 6-1: A Return to Form (2013)
After years of absence, Essien returned to the national team for the final phase of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He made his Ghana comeback in the final group-stage match against Zambia before taking his place in the starting line-up for an unforgettable victory.
The Black Stars were drawn against Egypt in the CAF play-offs in a match that was anticipated to be a tight and cagey affair.
Instead, it was anything but. The West Africans secured an unthinkable 6-1 victory in the first leg in Kumasi and secured their third spot among the global elite.
Essien, once again meeting the nation against which he made his international debut, was one of the team’s star men. In a midfield with old friend and international comrade Sulley Muntari, he rolled back the years to deliver a stunning performance.
The Bison operated in a box-to-box role, and the North Africans were unable to cope with his powerful and intuitive running. It was one such foray forward that prompted the panicked Wael Gomaa to put the ball into his own net on 22 minutes. Much more was to follow in one of the most remarkable scorelines ever witnessed in African football.