JOE COLE has played with Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard - some of the best central midfielders in the modern game - but he believes none of them compare with Michael Essien.
The £24.4million Ghana-ian was Chelsea's heartbeat on Wednesday night as Jose Mourinho's men shook the Champions League with a four-goal drubbing of Real Betis, the Spanish Copa del Rey winners.
Essien only arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer, when Chelsea finally brokered a record transfer deal with Lyon, but he is already an intrinsic member of Mourinho's unstoppable brigade.
"He is just the best athlete for a footballer I have ever seen," said Cole. "He has got everything - strength, pace, he can run all day, he is clever. He is a great player. I have not seen anyone to match him for that. He is fantastic."
Essien was instrumental in Chelsea's opening goal, when he set up Didier Drogba with a wonderfully disguised pass, and the Blues' third which Cole curled into the bottom right hand corner.
Cole, who will travel to Germany as part of England's World Cup squad after helping his country to wins over Austria and Poland, is now making the most of his chance as a Chelsea regular with Damien Duff out injured.