Once viewed as the epitome of a box-to-box midfielder, Michael Essien’s career has been plagued with injury, and he now finds himself as a fringe player at Chelsea. A deciding factor in the Blues’ Premier League success of 2005-06 in José Mourinho’s first tenure at the west London side, the Ghanaian dynamo has just been excluded from the Chelsea squad for this season’s Champions League.
Essien at his best is something unparalleled – the African battler can seemingly play both the goal threat and the enforcer roles simultaneously and was one of the most feared and respected midfielders in England when fully fit.
His energy, commitment and relentless work-rate saw him take a supremely talented Chelsea side by the scruff of the neck and drag them kicking and screaming to victory. A driving force he was, but injury setbacks have robbed him of his previous physical attributes.
Cruciate ligament injuries have ended plenty of footballers’ careers, and the former Lyon man has had the bad luck of suffering the knee injury on two separate occasions. The player that turns up to training everyday at Chelsea today is not as mobile, fearless and agile as the one that terrorised opponents in the mid-2000’s.
With Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge this summer, Essien must have rubbed his hands together and thought that things were beginning to look up for him. The Portuguese trainer knows all-to-well what Essien is capable of when on form and brought him to Real Madrid on a loan spell last term.
It was Mourinho that started playing Essien at full-back on occasion in Spain last season and it is clear that the African is a favoured player of the ex-Inter trainer. However, despite the allegiance between the pair, Essien has the prospect of looking on from the fringes ahead of him this season.
Despite the wealth of talent in the Chelsea side, a world-class defensive midfielder is missing from the continent. As such, Essien certainly has a look-in. The first-choice midfield pairing of Frank Lampard and Ramires are both naturally attacking players, while holding man John Obi Mikel is seemingly out of favour. At times last term, Rafa Benítez used David Luiz in midfield to offer someone that could go toe-to-toe with rivals battlers.
With the transfer window now closed and no additional players in Essien’s preferred position to contest with, the Ghanaian would certainly be an asset in a tight game away from home when the Blues were looking to see out a victory. Despite a number of those types of clashes expected on the continent, Essien’s abilities have been overlooked for the Champions League squad.
The best that the Ghana international can hope for now is to impress suitably in training to get a look in for Premier League clashes, and Essien may well be used in domestic cup competitions. He has been an unused substitute for three of Chelsea’s four games this term so far.
The Accra-born man should focus his energies on trying to gain a berth in midfield rather than at full-back, as the Blues are well-stocked on the flanks in defence.
A fully-fit, pre-cruciate injury Essien would be one of the first name’s on Mourinho’s teamsheet for an upcoming Champions League clash. However, with the midfielder’s abilities shackled due to an injury prone period in his career, the 30-year-old’s opportunities to show what he can do will most likely be severely limited this term.