When Real Madrid announced the loan signing of midfielder Michael Essien from Chelsea, it was greeted with mixed reactions. Whilst some Chelsea faithfuls were happy that their midfielder was finally going to get some playing time at a club like Real Madrid, some Madridistas, like Guti Haz (former Real Madrid midfielder), strongly objected to the move and went further to question Madrid’s transfer policy. After central midfielder, Granero was sold out to English Premiership outfit Queens Park Rangers and out of favour defensive midfielder, Lass shipped out on loan to Anzhi in Russia, it only seemed legitimate to bring in Michael Essien to fill the void left by the duo.
Jose Mourinho purchased Essien circa 2005 from Lyon for a reported 24.4 million pounds, which made the former Bastia midfielder the most expensive African player. Probably the most perilous transfer Mourinho has ever made, the gamble paid off. The 2006 BBC African player of the year will go on to become an important cog for Jose Mourinho’s all-conquering Chelsea side that won trophies in style. Even after the ‘Special One’ left Stamford Bridge, the midfield dynamo remained a key figure for Chelsea FC until injuries reared its ugly head. Two anterior cruciate knee ligament injuries in a space of three years (2008 and 2011) threatened Essien’s illustrious career. The 29 year old was deemed surplus to requirement and his position in the starting 11 was assumed by the much-maligned Nigerian midfielder, John Obi Mikel. The Bison became a permanent fixture on the bench rather than on the field at Chelsea and his peripheral figure became more prominent with the arrival of new players and the appointment of Roberto di Matteo who favoured the Lampard-Mikel combo in his double-pivot midfield. A new script was being written at Stamford Bride with 50 million pound rated striker, Fernando Torres the lead actor, and no role assigned Michael Essien, who used to be the darling boy of Chelsea. The road to identify his former self was being tarred by Jose Mourinho and it has already started………….by bringing him to Real Madrid.
Michael Essien is the type of player Jose Mourinho dotes on; versatile. Once regarded as the only true box-to-box midfielder in the English Premiership, Essien’s versatility means he’ll be much needed at Real Madrid. He can play at centre back, right back, and any position across midfield. The 2005 French Ligue 1 Player of the Year can also score important goals as well as demonstrated by his swirling strike against Arsenal in the 2006/2007 premiership season and also against FC Barcelona in the 2008/2009 Champions League semi-final clash at Stamford Bridge. Michael Essien is a big game player. After arriving at Real Madrid, his first game was against Manchester City in the epic, high-octane thriller at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu where he started the game in central midfield ahead of the likes of Luca Modric and Mesut Ozil. Essien will definitely be the wildcard in El Clasico games, trust me.
Michael Essien is at Real Madrid on a mission; rediscovery! Much is expected of him. He’s surrounded by world class players, he’s enjoying the company of a manager who completely trusts him and he’s also under the watchful eyes of Madridistas who appreciate hard working players. Essien needs to take his chance and grab this opportunity with both hands. Players of Essien’s calibre can slip into the starting 11 of any world class team. If the Ghanaian midfielder works hard, he can unseat his greatest rival, Sami Khedira, in terms of that defensive midfield berth. Real Madrid are competing in three major competitons this season; La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey. Strength in depth is key and that’s why Michael Essien is at Real Madrid. As Los Merengues gravitate towards “La Decima” (10th Champions League glory), the experience and confidence that Real Madrid’s number 15 jersey man oozes will come in handy. The midfield enforcer will be needed to plug those midfield holes in La Liga and Copa Del Rey game as well.
It will be difficult to decipher the particular position Michael Essien will play at Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho normally rolls out a 4-2-3-1 formation at Madrid and a defensive 4-3-3 formation in some big games. With th 4-2-3-1 formation, Essien can play as one of the two holding midfielders, alongside either of Sami Khedira or Xabi Alonso. He can also play as right back, as a back up for Alvaro Arbeloa. Arbeloa has next to no competition for that right-back slot. Occasionally Essien can play as centre back, which is highly improbable though, with respect to the number of central defenders already at the Bernabeu. Essien can also play in the central attacking midfield role, just behind the main striker or a more familiar right-sided midfield position. In a 4-3-3 formation, he can play either as the defensive midfielder, a central midfielder, or as the more advanced midfielder whose only job is to press the opposition midfielders and defenders. Sami Khedira has admirably played the latter role to perfection in games against Valencia and Barcelona in the past. On the low side, Essien could also be employed as an impact substitute or even reduced to cameo performances to see out games in the closing minutes by shoring up the midfield.
Michael Essien is a fighter. He has a strong character. He loves to win. In my honest opinion, I think he will succeed at Real Madrid and tear up the script that was authored by the conspiracy theorists. The 2006 BBC African Footballer of the Year may be past his prime years but still has a lot to offer. Madridistas will hope that Essien finds his former self; combative midfield battler, lung-bursting runs through midfield, lunging into tackles, scoring cracking goals. He will be Real Madrid’ Mr X.
Michael will be ESSIENtial for Real Madrid.
NB: It is widely expected that Michael Essien will start Real Madrid’s La Liga game vrs Rayo Vallecano this evening ahead of Sami Khedira.