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08.12.2005 Football News

Essien's Stamp Of Disapproval

By Ibrahim Sannie
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Black Stars midfielder Michael Essien has been a 'force to reckon with' in English football since his $45 million transfer from the French outfit Lyon in the summer.

He has brought some quality to Jose Mourinho's squad, delight to watch when exploding from midfield and comfortable, as on Tuesday night, when standing in for Claude Makelele in the holding role.

But now the glint on the 23-year-old's crown is beginning to lose its shine following a studs-bared assault on Dietmar Hamann's upper shin in their Champions League tie against Liverpool which ended goalless. The German referee, Herbert Fandel, failed to see the heinous foul, that Hamann rated the worst of his lengthy career, is not the first time Essien has been let-off.

His lunge on Tal Ben Haim, the Bolton Wanderers defender, in October was equally crude. Even though he was yellow-carded for that offence, the referee was willingly to convert it to red-card after watching the television replays, but Fifa turned it down so Essien could count himself doubly fortunate.

Tuesday's tackle on Hamman was the clearest sign that the English media are beginning to lose patience with the Ghanaian midfielder. With no goals in the match to talk about, all the UK national newspapers on Wednesday launched on Essien like a splenetic lynch mob pursuing some hapless prey, with many calling for video evidence to punish him and it may well happen as UEFA are still considering it. Those who were charitable were echoing Hamman's view of an unqualified apology.

Never mind the tackle, but Essien's position has been even difficult by the way he has scorned the media since he arrived in the UK so when they get the opportunity to nail him, they will grab it with both hands. As a friend just called to point out, these attacks will grow in the UK if Ghana is drawn in the same group with England at the World Cup draws on Friday. But the issue is I am yet to see an interview with Essien, who is hot in demand, in any of the powerful media outlets in the UK and abroad but for Chelsea TV.

Some have said that Chelsea are preventing him from talking to the media with others holding that he is a 'shy-guy'. But if the interview-request emails and faxes flood Chelsea's media office he has the right to select and choose the requests which would best enhance his image and respond. His Ivorian team-mate, Didier Drogba, has spoken to many magazines, newspapers and electronic media outlets since he joined Chelsea. So in his bad first season, the vast majority of the media were charitable. He has even used his website, where he recently announced his commitment to Ivory Coast's Nations Cup campaign, to connect with the media and the public. Essien pulled his down since his move from France.

Should we blame the media? No I don't think so because Essien matters to a lot of people and he has to realize that he has arrived. In difficult times like this and in good times, his fans especially Ghanaians (as he mirrors the nation when he is on the pitch) want to hear him restore their confidence with a contrition when he goes wrong and hear him celebrate the good times.

Even in Ghana where many of us (journalists) have seen him grow from the under-17 national team, we expect that we should have built some good relationship with him since 1998, to interview him for some few minutes. Yet, he has dealt humiliating snubs to many Ghanaian journalists, one of which was live on television, after the Black Stars last World Cup qualifier in Cape Verde.

This disquiet in the media is trickling down to the public especially in Ghana where his support base is huge and very important. His no showing at the Olympic Games in Athens, feet dragging at national team invitations and the alleged jersey-episode when he went on trials with Manchester United have all not gone down well with his fans. His closest friends (at least in the national teams) have even complained that he has failed to connect with them since his Chelsea move.

As a matter of urgency Essien should first apologise to Hamman, clean up his act on the field and get the fans and media back in his favour. Unnecessary attention will only make referees pay 'special' attention to him which could prove to be costly for him, his club and above all the Black Stars at the Nations Cup in Egypt and the World Cup in Germany.

Essien is a role model for many people throughout the world, and this image is what he has to uphold, otherwise his aura of invincibility will fade. For a man so cut off from his roots cannot flourish forever.

Ibrahim Sannie is Ghanaian sports journalist with the BBC World Service.