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Forgotten football stars: Michael Essien

Chelsea v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League
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If you thought that Michael Essien is a long time retired, you couldn’t be more wrong. The former Chelsea midfielder is a current player-coach at Azerbaijani side Sabail FK.

Best known for his glory days at Chelsea FC, Essien is one of the greatest ever African central midfielders. He was the star of Ghana’s FIFA U-17 World Championship side back in 1999, which won third place at the competition.

The young midfielder caught the eye many European scouts with his performances in the tournament, with Manchester United being the first side to offer him a trial in the following months.

However, Essien was ineligible to obtain a work permit in the United Kingdom and turned down the option to join United’s feeder club Royal Antwerp until he was eligible to move to England.

His mother played a huge part in his decision, as she preferred a move to France instead. That’s how the 17-year old ended up at Bastia, signing for the club in July 2000.

Three years later, Michael Essien moved to Olympique Lyon, where he developed into one of the star players of the French League. He won two back to back league titles with Les Gones and was named the Ligue 1 Player of the Year for the 2004-05 campaign.

And again a big Premier League side came knocking on his door, but it was Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea this time. The Ghana international joined the Blues on 14 August 2005 for a transfer fee of £24.4 million.

At Chelsea, Essien grew into a world-class midfield player, known for his physical style of playing and his long-range stunners. He was an all-around midfielder in his peak with excellent defensive skills, but also a good technique, passing range and tactical intelligence.

He won two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the UEFA Champions League with the Blues, before spending the 2012-13 season on loan at Real Madrid.

His form started dropping five years ago, and after making only 22 appearances in two years at AC Milan, Essien decided to move to Greece joining Panathinaikos in June 2015.

Of course, the 36-year-old midfielder is not the same player as before, but he truly enjoys his new role at Sabail FK, as he is a player but also a coach of the club’s U19 side. That way he can gain experience for the next stage of his career, which is obviously being a manager of a football club.

At an international level, Essien made 58 appearances for the Ghana National Team. He was named in the CAF Team of the Year in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009 and won the Ghana Player of the Year award in 2007.