Michael Essien is the best thing to have happened to Ghanaian football since the golden years of Abedi Pele and the short lived career of Nii Odartey Lamptey. The Chelsea midfielder is any coach’s dream player, as he has proved time and again playing for both club and country.
Leading his country to a second qualification for the World Cup with two games to spare, Essien showed how Essien-tial he is to the Black Stars’ midfield alongside Anthony Annan and the now out of favour Sulley Muntari.
When the Stars line up during January’s Nations Cup, it will be the first major tournament in the last six years that Essien will not be standing beside his friend and ‘soul brother’ Muntari, who has been dropped from the team due to disciplinary issues. It will therefore be interesting to see how the Chelsea man performs without the influence of Muntari, who has been his room-mate at every tournament the Ghanaians have played in the last six years.
Essien’s quality cannot be denied. He is a one-man midfield armada that can turn a game on its head with his mesmerising runs and dribbles when the need arises. He has shown that he can play in any compartment of the midfield and defence over and over again with Chelsea, whilst chipping in with important goals from time to time.
During the last AFCON he slotted into the captain’s role and central defensive position after John Mensah was sent off in the quarter-final against Nigeria at the Ohene Gyan Stadium. In that game he scored Ghana’s equaliser and held the fort to make sure that the Nigerians could not find a way into the Stars’ defense, as Ghana triumphed 2-1.
Essien will return to the Nations Cup in Angola as one of a handful of Africa’s real global football stars on parade at the bi-annual football showpiece. His present form will determine how far the Ghanaians can go in attempting to win their fifth African trophy, the last of which came many years ago in 1982, Essien’s year of birth.
Coming off an injury sustained during a recent Champions League match, many of Ghana’s opponents would hope that the ‘Bison’ does not hit peak form during the tournament. Group adversaries Ivory Coast, who are led by club team-mates Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, know first-hand what a fully fit Essien can achieve on a good day, and will pray that the midfield marshal does not find his feet during their encounter.
But opponents will also find that, as important as he is to the Black Stars, there are other young midfielders fighting to fill the big shoes of the Chelsea man. In the Ghanaian team are youngsters Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Andre Ayew, recent winners of the Under-20 World Cup. Also, in attack will be Dominic Adiyiah, the best player and highest scorer of the tournament in Egypt.
These are ambitious young players who will be looking to cement a place for themselves in Milovan Rajevac’s 2010 World Cup team. Essien has definitely got capable assistants whom he can look upon to do the country honours in case he does not gain full fitness before the tournament.
A fully-fit Michael Essien will light up Angola 2010 with his skills, which is what every neutral football fan should be hoping for.