Essien not ready to call it quits quite yet

The former Chelsea midfielder has already had one ASEAN adventure but is keeping his options open in case another one turns up.

In the 2006/07 season at Stamford Bridge, it was the meeting of last two English Premier League title winners in Chelsea and Arsenal. Mathieu Flamini had already put the visitors 0-1 up but the being the reigning champions, Chelsea found a way back into the game with one spectacular effort.

Ghanaian Michael Essien had joined The Blues just a season before that after playing a starring role in the all-dominating Lyon team. When Frank Lampard laid the ball onto the path of the stocky midfielder in the 84th minute of the match, no one quite expected what came next.

Without slowing his stride, Essien connected sweetly with the ball and struck a swerving shot that Jens Lehmann could nothing about. The match finished in a draw and Chelsea maintained their long unbeaten home record. They would eventually relinquish the title to Manchester United that season but Essien already had a profound impact on the club and fans.

Now 35 years of age, Essien has just came out from a stint in Southeast Asia where he played for Indonesia's Persib Bandung. A route that has seen him gone from Chelsea to Real Madrid, AC Milan and Panathinaikos before spending time with Malaysia's neighbours.

Michael Essien - Persib Bandung

"It was quite simple. I remember when I left Greece, I was thinking to stop," Essien spoke exclusively to Goal. "I didn't play for like 7-8 months. Then I had a call from a friend about Persib Bandung. They wanted a name to give a lift to the club and country. They contacted me and I thought why not. It was a good experience for me and I totally enjoyed my one year there." 

"They were football fanatics and stadium was almost full every game. They sing and chant all game. They are very happy when they win and sad when they lose. I was able to travel to many places that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to. The fans love their team and club. They always try to push their team to do well and that is always nice to see. 

"The standard is not the same as Europe but in Indonesia, the standard is very good. It's not easy to play in that climate sometimes, it can be too hot. They still go out and work hard for their teams, so it gives you more joy to play football."

Despite his age, Essien still had that sparkle in his eyes when asked if he will be hanging up his boots soon. Considering that the interview was done in Kuala Lumpur, it was a fair question to ask if time in Malaysian football would interest him, and the response was a positive one. 

"It's not the end. I have some discussion to do with some clubs. I still want to enjoy a little bit the years ahead of me before I call it done. If a club come from Malaysia, then we'll sit down and talk, then see what happens."

Jose Mourinho was the manager at Chelsea back then who sanctioned the purchase of Essien from Ligue 1. The Portuguese now in charge at Manchester United and had recently offered a different side of him with his comments on Arsene Wenger, after years of being at each other's throat.

To many onlookers, it looked like Mourinho has mellowed in his ways but his former player doesn't quite think so. For Essien, he will always cherish the person that Mourinho is and one that people rarely see beyond the matches and the press conferences.

"For me personally, I don't think Jose has changed. Jose is Jose. When he's not happy about something, he's not the one to keep quiet. That makes him one of the best managers in the football world. His knowledge about football is different class. Everyone can see what he can do."

"Jose off the pitch is a very good, funny and happy man. Full of positive energy. But when he's on the football pitch and the office, his passion and emotions come out. People see that more than his normal life, he's a very great man."

As a deeper playing midfielder and one that played at Chelsea, Essien will always have the uncomfortable comparison with one Claude Makalele. Recent Chelsea incarnations has seen N'Golo Kante taking on the role but Essien figures only one is incomparable.

"We are similar but different but if I have to choose, it's Makelele. He's the brain. He's even got the position named after him. You have to give him massive respect."

Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, Chelsea

With Chelsea, Essien won two league titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup and one Champions League trophy. An incredible haul in what was a magnificent career. He saw his former team regaining back the league title last season but he would also have seen them losing it this current 2017/18 season.

Virtually the same batch of players and manager, it remains a big question mark as to why the same squad and system has not worked to the same degree as it did just one year ago. Essien himself knows the difficulty any reigning champions goes through the following season, having twice failed to defend the Premier League in his time.

Yet, Essien retains the believe that at this current point in time, Antonio Conte remains the perfect man to overturn the fortunes of the club and firmly believe that the Italian deserve time to rectify the wrongs of this season.

"Everyone would expect them to do better but it's part of the game. These are the same players that won the league last year so it's been a bit disappointing this year. It's not the first time it happened.

"It happened when Jose went back. When you win the league, the next year is even harder because the other teams will be more prepared. But I'm sure they will finish this season on a good note and they'll do better next year.

"People like to talk when things are not going well. Last year he was the best and this year people are starting to cut him off already. To me, he's still a very good manager and can still do the job. I don't see why he should go. Of course I would like to see him stay," said a confident Essien.

Catch former Chelsea player Michael Essien on Astro Supersports' coverage of the English Premier League.