Why is Michael Essien so underrated is a mystery to me. I must admit that I was nonplussed about him as a player, knowing next to nothing about him when he signed for Chelsea from Lyon in August 2005 for £24 million. That was in the dark days before I had Setanta and could immerse myself in French football as often as I wished. Yet, it took next to no time for me to be impressed by his dynamic style and work rate, for me he’s easily one of the best midfielders in world football and this season has shown just how important he is for Chelsea.
His performances in the three games he’s played since returning from the damaged cruciate ligament he picked up playing for Ghana against Libya have been sensational, I consider him a swashbuckling player, dynamic runs, powerful in the tackle, yet a lovely range of passing, good in the air and the positional adaptability that all managers would adore to have in their team. His goal against Juventus showed that he wasn’t held back by his injury as some players can be on their return. By throwing himself at the ball and the imposing figure of Gianluigi Buffon, without a care about his knee showed he wanted to score over anything else, he just wanted to drag his team level and also evaporate any doubts over his long term fitness.Against Manchester City yesterday, he could have had a hatrick.
Essien has shown in those games just how important he is and yet he knows he has to push the continual development of his game. When he first joined, the only thing about his game that I thought he lacked was his goalscoring, only getting two in his debut season at Chelsea. He’s certainly added that to his game since though, and his two goals in Chelsea’s last two games were massive, massive goals. The goal against Juventus, coming when it did, was such a crucial strike. If Chelsea had gone in at half time one nil down, especially scoring a goal that the referee and linesman missed, they’d be out of Europe now, no question about it. The dreadful decision would have weighed down on them and I don’t think they’d have been able to pick themselves up enough in the second half, but Essien saved the day.
His return to fitness couldn’t come at a better time for the Blues and Guus Hiddink as we reach the final furlong in European football. The Premiership is too far out of reach, regardless of Liverpool’s destruction of Manchester United on Saturday, but with Chelsea still in the F.A.Cup and Champions League, the possibility of having two cracks at silverware is tantalising close. Essien will be crucial in this run in now, his drive and effervescence, matchless in Chelsea’s engine room.
With sounds emanating from Stamford Bridge that Chelsea look likely to have a major clear out in the Summer, Essien, along with Lampard and Anelka, would be top of the list of players to keep hold of with no question of selling any of that trio and building the new Chelsea around them for a serious assault on four fronts. Essien has to be the fulcrum, the pivot that allows the team to move freely. Get that balance right and Chelsea can look to scale the heights they achieved under Mourinho once again next year.