COMMENT By Evans Gyamera-Antwi
Michael Essien confirmed last week that his Ghana career at come to an end, and that there would be no return to international duty.
“If I am called to play for the Black Stars again I won't honour it,” Essien told GHOne TV. “It's not possible.”
It was simple, it was final, and it brought the curtain down on the Black Stars tenure of one of Ghana’s greatest midfielders.
At 16, Essien was a World Cup bronze-medalist at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Championship and would go on to clinch the silver medal two years later in the U-20 category as the Black Satellites lost the final to Argentina.
If you're @MichaelEssien, would you regret more missing @ghanafaofficial's run to the 2010 World Cup quarter-final, or to the 2010 Afcon final?— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) July 31, 2018
Which is the biggest missing chapter in the Bison's legacy?https://t.co/K8VyNq5XIc pic.twitter.com/wLeBigY4w3
Six months afterwards, and now 19, Essien made his senior debut in a friendly game against Egypt prior to the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations held in Mali. He was tipped to be one of the future forces who would help the Black Stars win their first major trophy since 1982.
Ultimately, he fell just short.
Despite winning the Ligue 1 title with Lyon in 2004, Ghana couldn't qualify for the Afcon held in Tunisia, and Essien was denied a second chance to secure continental gold.
He got another opportunity two years later, as the Black Stars’ Golden Generation entered their prime, and was also influential as Ghana reached their first World Cup.
Essien infamously missed the Afcon through injury, with a section of Ghanaians believing it was staged by him and Chelsea medics.
He was still a new face at Stamford Bridge, had already become a key figure under Jose Mourinho, and the clubs weren’t ready to risk further injury problems to the Bison.
Further fitness problems for Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari prior to the start of the tournament meant that Ghana wouldn't be able to progress from the group stage, although Essien did manage to win the Premier League with the Blues.
Ghana made amends at the World Cup in Germany by escaping the group stage at their first attempt, although Essien was absent for their Last 16 exit at the hands of Brazil.
In 2008, Ghana hosted the Afcon, and showed glimpses of their title credentials throughout the tournament.
Essien was a driving force, but his Nations Cup dreams were ended by Alain N’Kong’s 71st-minute winner for Cameroon in the semis and Ghana had to settle for a bronze.
Two years later in Angola, Essien’s campaign was much briefer, and he was added to an extensive injury list after the Stars’ opener against the Ivory Coast.
Ghana still went onto reach the final before being defeated by Egypt, but what might have been had Essien been fit?
The injury also cost him the chance to play at the 2010 World Cup, missing the chance to partake in the first tournament on African soil and feature in the Black Stars’ unforgettable run to the quarter-final.
He had one final chance to make his mark in international competition at the 2014 tournament in Brazil when he was ‘called back’ to help by Kwesi Appiah.
Return he did, but help he did not, as Ghana fell at the first hurdle in acrimonious circumstances.
It was a sad end to an international career that included 58 appearances and spanned for 16 years.
At club level, Essien’s achievements are almost unparalleled, but with retirement, he’ll now never get the chance to make up for a series of missed opportunities with the Black Stars.