Playing for Real Madrid represents the epitome for any professional football player, and for Michael Essien, his move to the Santiago Bernabeu could not have come at a better time of a fading career.
The Ghanaian midfielder has suffered injuries over the last two seasons that have seen a lack of regular action, which inevitably led to a dip in form, and when it appeared his Chelsea career was over, Jose Mourinho threw him a lifeline.
The Special One brought Essien to Chelsea in 2005 from Lyon and the battling midfielder quickly impressed with his ceaseless energy, ability to win back possession and a couple of stunning long range goals.
At his best the former Black Stars captain was one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world, and played a major role in Mourinho’s successful reign at Stanford Bridge, which brought the club its first English Premier League title(s).
Unfortunately for both player and club, Essien has suffered a number of serious and long-term injuries. Last season, he was a virtual spectator as the Chelsea lifted a memorable Champions League and FA Cup double under caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo, who saw him (Essien) as a squad player than a key first team member.
Mourinho brought Essien to England and it appears as though the former Inter Milan coach believes he can restore the player to his former self.
From my point of view, a season away in a new environment was what the Ghanaian wanted to try and rediscover a slice of his form of past—don’t expect him to be the same player he was a five years ago because he simply can’t, not because of his advancing age only but the serious knee injuries.
At Real Madrid, he will be training and playing alongside some of the best players in the game, and hoping that he can regain his sharpness, both physically and mentally in one of the best, if not the best leagues in the world.
The chance to play for the La Liga champions is one that the 29-year old will relish, and a change of scenery might just give him the shot in the arm he needs to return to his best.
However, I can’t help but think that Essien’s opportunities to play in the first team are going to be limited especially in La Liga and Champions League matches.
And his cause may not be helped by Real Madrid’s indifferent start to the new campaign, trailing five points archrivals Barcelona after three matches.
With the likes of Alonso, Khedira, Kaka and now Luka Modric all challenging for a place in central midfield, Essien could well find himself used less sparingly than he might want.
Another Chelsea midfielder Lassana Diarra left the club to join Samuel Eto’o at Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, Essien will need to return to the form of his early Chelsea days to stand a chance of holding down a regular place at Santiago Bernabeu.
The former Lyon star expressed his excitement being reunited with Mourinho, saying at his presentation that, “daddy”, when referring to Mourinho, can count on him.
“Everything went very fast and I was in my hotel room and I had a call from my daddy [Mourinho] and he said he would be very happy to have me at the club,” Essien said.
“Daddy [Mourinho] knows me very well, he brought me to Chelsea, and he knows I can play in any position he wants – except goalkeeper.”