Michael ‘Fifi’ Essien was born on the 3rd of December, 1982 in Accra, the capital of Ghana, to Aba Gyandoh and James Essien, both natives of Fanteland, a great tribe in Ghana. Fifi, as Friday-borns are referred to in Fanteland, had his secondary education in St Augustine’s College, a school which was also attended by Black Stars team mate, Matthew Amoah.
Still, it was in football, not academia, in which he was to make his name. He started off locally in Fanteland, but was spotted there by Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, who was coach of the Liberty Professionals U-17 side and out on a scouting mission. This club is based in Dansoman, a suburb of Accra, and here he found more exposure. He was however. Upon his outstanding performances for Liberty Professionals, Essien was called up into Ghana’s juvenile team this time to represent the country in the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Zealand. Essien performed very well in his position as a central defender, sporting the number 4 jersey for Ghana in that tournament, and though he played second fiddle to players like Ishmael Addo and Don Bortey he helped the side to third place.
Move To Europe
Essien’s resounding performances in that competition put him under the spotlight from many European clubsm including Manchester United, where he went for trials in that year. Essien, however, signed on at French club SC Bastia, where he found it difficult to play his natural defensive role because of his age. Nonetheless he was again drafted into Ghana’s Under-20 squad to play in the FIFA U-20 World Cup staged in Argentina.
This was to help him at club level: Essien’s defensive ability combined with his intermittent incursion into the opponents’ goal area might have convinced SC Bastia of the young defender’s ability to play in midfield. Thus, after helping Ghana to scoop an all-important silver medal at the tournament, Essien made his way back to Bastia where he was allowed now to replace an injured player in the central line. Having secured his place in the team, Essien helped SC Bastia to qualify to the UEFA Cup in 2002. In all, Essien made 65 appearances for the French side scoring 11 goals, his highest so far at a club.
Having realized that he had reached maturity, the Ghana Football Association through coach Osam Duodu called up Essien into the national team for the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali. Essien made his full international debut for the senior national team, the Black Stars, in this tournament when he played in the goalless match against Morocco. As one of the few foreign-based players in the Ghanaian squad, Essien paid his dues in helping the Black Stars to the quarter finals where they were eliminated by Nigeria by a lone goal. Essien again became the cynosure of many European clubs’ eyes as the Cup of Nations always attracted many scouts from Europe in recent times.
Paris Saint Germain could have become Essien’s destination. However, the defender-turned-midfielder rejected the contract and rather signed a 7.8 million Euro deal with Olympique Lyonnais, a club which was not popular in Ghana. However, seeing Essien in the UEFA Champions League matches for Lyon convinced many Ghanaians of the club’s pedigree in France and by extension in Europe. Essien executed his defensive midfield role exquisitely together with teammate Mamadou Diarra of Mali. Olympique Lyonnais became endeared to many football fans in Ghana because of Michael Essien’s exploits, and the midfield dynamo was named the 2005 Player of the Year by France's National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP). His hard tackles in the French Ligue 1 gained him his sobriquet “The Bull” during his 71 appearances for Lyon, in which he managed 7 goals.
On the 14th of August, 2005, Lyon agreed to take the £24m offered by Chelsea for the services of Essien ending one of the longest running transfer sagas in recent English football history. Essien, thus, became Africa’s most expensive player breaking his Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba’s record. Essien’s arrival in London sparked off a club-and-country controversy as Chelsea officials did not allow him to play in Ghana’s friendly against Senegal. Essien, however, came to the stadium as a mere spectator in the company of high-profile security detail.
The milestones came thick and fast. The midfielder made his debut for Chelsea on the 21st of August, 2005 when he came on as a substitute. He made a full debut against West Bromwich Albion FC, giving an assist on the day. Essien scored his first goal for the Pensioners in March 2006 in a match against Tottenham Hotspur. Essien has since appeared 91 times scoring 10 goals for Chelsea. So far, Essien has helped the Blues in winning each the FA Premier League, the English League Cup and the English FA Cup, not to mention the Champions League. He was voted as Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the 2006/2007 season and his 35-yard terrific strike won him Chelsea’s Goal of the Season.
Yet after the departure of trainer Jose Mourinho, Essien was on the list of players to make an exodus from Chelsea. Having been the first person to know of Jose Mourinho’s contract with Inter Milan, Essien was linkesd with a move to the Nerrazurri. However, with the signing on of Luiz Felipe Scolari, the midfield dynamo might stay with the Blues for yet another season.
Essien’s enormous contribution to his country powered the Black Stars into an unbeaten streak in 2005 winning Ghana the Highest mover on the FIFA Rankings that year. Ghana has also achieved their best ever ranking when they were pitched at 14th in the world in Febraury, March and April, 2008. Essien also contributed immensely to Ghana’s success in the 2006 World Cup in Germany being one of the two players of Ghana to win Man of the Match awards during that tournament. He won his prize after the vital 2- 0 win over the Czech Republic, stepping up for his award in the No. 1 jersey of Peter Cech (The Chelsea teammates had exchanged strips after the match.)
Essien came under serious criticism from Ghanaians when it was alleged that his injury in the Chelsea-West Ham match prior to the 2006 Africa Nations Cup was a feigned one instigated by Jose Mourinho. Prior to that incident, negotiations had been held between the Ghana Football Association and the Chelsea technical staff to allow Essien to feature for the Black Stars during the Nations Cup given rumours that Chelsea will not allow Essien to feature in the tournament. The 2005 African Player of the Year Award eluded Essien with the pretext that he did not join Ghana in the Egypt 2006 tournament, a tournament Ghana bowed out woefully losing 1 -2 to Zimbabwe and was rather given to Samuel Eto’O Fils of Cameroon and Didier Drogba of Cote d’Ivoire, who came first and second respectively
Michael Essien has had important honours to his credit including gaining nominations in three consecutive years from 2005 to 2007 each for the FIFA World Player of the Year , the Ballon d’Or and the African Footballer of the Year.
One cannot talk about the positives of a player without talking about the negatives as Essien’s hard tackles had him suspended in the UEFA Champions League two-leg matches against Barcelona though his tackle on Dietar Hamann went unnoticed by Referee Massimo De Santis of Italy in that match against Liverpool.
As a teaser, Essien remains one of the jovial players in the Black Stars camp anytime they meet with his different dancing styles catching up on his team mates. His latest dancing style is the Kangaroo dance which has now become hip in the country.
Essien remains Ghana’s hope for the future and his success will be synonymous to the success of the Black Stars.
Emmanuel Kwame Amoh
Name: Michael Fiifi Essien
Date of Birth: 3rd December, 1982
Height: 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)
Positions: Midfielder, Right Full Back and Centre Back
Current Club: Chelsea FC