Essien receives world appelations
PARIS, Aug 14 - After establishing himself as the finest player in Ligue 1, Michael Essien has opted for a new challenge by joining English champions Chelsea.
The fact that French champions Olympique Lyon resisted sustained pressure from the wealthy London club for weeks provided further evidence that the Ghana midfielder, nicknamed the Buffalo for his powerful playing style, is something special.
New Lyon coach Gerard Houllier, who would have loved to keep him, regards the energetic 22-year-old as being in the same league as Chelsea's Frank Lampard or Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.
"He's one of those players who is indispensable to a team," the former Liverpool manager said of Essien.
"What's particularly interesting with him is that he can play everywhere in midfield and even in defence."
Essien can also score on occasions, as he proved by netting 18 goals in 137 Ligue 1 matches.
He joined Lyon in 2003 from Bastia, annoying the Corsican club who had agreed a deal with Paris St Germain.
Paul Le Guen, then the Lyon coach, certainly did not complain and immediately made him one of his main trump cards.
The midfield combination of Essien, Brazil's Juninho and Mali's Mahamadou Diarra maintained Lyon firmly at the top of Ligue 1 and Essien won two French titles in a row before deciding to graze in pastures new.
"He's really explosive and can make a difference at any moment," Le Guen said of the muscular Essien. "Physically, he's a phenomenon."
His last season with Lyon won him the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award. He also made Europe take notice with superb performances and five goals in Lyon's campaign to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Several top European clubs started chasing him. Lyon were determined to keep him and raised the bar extremely high but Essien's desire to leave and Chelsea's bottomless cash reserves eventually prevailed.
Essien's dreams of playing in England are nothing new. When he left Ghana for Europe aged 19, he wanted to join Manchester United but had to settle for a club in France.
In 2000 he joined Bastia, not the most glamorous French club but a perfect springboard for an ambitious youngster. He played 13 games in his first season there and soon became the side's most vital player, helping them reach the French Cup final in 2002.
A workaholic footballer, Essien trains harder than anyone else and is totally dedicated to his passion.
"It's true that football is all my life," said the discreet Ghanaian.
"I don't like going out much. I'm a bit of a loner."
The only thing he does not like about his job is having to undergo physiotherapy sessions.
"I have to do it sometimes but I'm happy when I can avoid it," he says.
The last few weeks were tough on Essien, who did not know what the future would bring because the outcome of the battle over him between Chelsea and Lyon looked uncertain.
"He looks miserable and we all feel sorry for him," Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet said a few days before the saga unfolded.