... I'M NO FAKE London, Jan. 28, NewsOfTheWorld -- MICHAEL ESSIEN last night insisted: "I am NOT cheating my country — I really AM injured." Chelsea's midfield star hit back after being hurt by accusations back home in Ghana that his ankle ligament problem is a fake. It is claimed the injury has been invented or exaggerated by the champions so that Essien could escape a call-up for the African Nations Cup. But the £24million star is adamant there is NO truth whatsoever in the cruel claims. Essien pledged : "It is all lies, it is all wrong and I don't know how anyone could think such a thing. "But, yes, there are some in Ghana who are saying I have been faking this injury so I can stay at Chelsea and not go to the African Nations Cup.
"They say I am not really injured, that I have put my club before my country — but it is just not true.
"I would never do that and I don't know why they should accuse me like this. I have always been there for my country and always want to play for my country — I love my country."
Essien can't imagine what sparked such an idea as he was already injured when Ghana named their squad.
He added: "It just doesn't make sense.
"Other Chelsea players like Didier Drogba and Geremi have gone to the African Nations Cup so why would the club stop me from going?
"And if I wasn't really injured, why haven't I been playing for Chelsea? The truth is I have damaged my ligaments and although I am making a good recovery, I was not fit to go.
"I am not happy about that at all but I realise that these things can happen when you are a footballer. My recovery has gone a lot better than I anticipated. I am back in training and hope to be back in action very soon — hopefully next weekend."
Essien has not played since being carried off during Chelsea's 3-1 win at West Ham on January 2 after a crunching tackle from Nigel Reo-Coker.
He said: "It was a heavy tackle, I knew something was wrong right away."
But Essien shrugs at the suggestion he has become a marked man in the Premiership after dishing out a few "heavy tackles" himself.
The man, nicknamed 'Bison' because of his immense power and strength, has been widely criticised for challenges this season on Bolton's Tal Ben Haim, Liverpool's Didi Hamann and Arsenal's Lauren.
The Hamann incident cost him a two-match UEFA ban that will rob him of the opportunity to face Barcelona next month.
But Essien feels harshly treated and insisted: "I would never go out to deliberately hurt another player.
"I agree the tackles look bad — the photographs made it look horrible and the TV kept showing the incidents over and over again as if they wanted to get me into trouble.
"But I promise you they were all accidents and I did not intend to hurt anybody. Maybe one or two players saw these things and now think I may be a bad guy. But the truth is I like to play hard but fair."
When he tells you the players he most admires you get the idea. He said: "I am playing with one of my heroes in Claude Makelele — he is one of the greatest midfielders I have ever seen.
"I am also a big fan of Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane. So, yes, I like the hard guys — they have no fear, they are not scared."
But Essien is no hard nut. He says his mother Aba is "the most important thing in my life", closely followed by his four elder sisters, Alice, Gladys, Joyce and Diana.
He said: "They did everything for me and still do when I go back to Ghana. I never had to do any washing, cleaning or anything like that."
At 15, he was invited to train with Ghana Under-17s. He said: "I didn't want to go to the capital Accra to train and play — I wanted to stay with my family.
"But my mum persuaded me to go. In fact, she said I HAD to because it was such a great opportunity. I'm so glad I listened to her