Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 1 October 2016
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 OCTOBER 2016 SPORT No new pastures for The Bison After Melbourne Victory’s failed bid, is it the end of the line for Michael Essien? DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 Michael Essien (R) in action back in the day. PHOTO: AP/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH. GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS At his hulking, tidal-wave-like best, watching Michael Essien on a football pitch was a privilege. A box-tobox midfielder before the term was a trend, then wasn't, then was again, the Ghanaian was, for a while, if not the best, then certainly one of the most feared and respected central midfielders of his generation. Making his name as part of a fantastic Olympique Lyonnais side overflowing with talent in the early ‘00s, Essien easily stood out among established names and rising stars such as Eric Abidal, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cris, Juninho Pernambucano, Florent Malouda, Karim Benzema and Sylvain Wiltord. A player with astounding natural strength and ability, Essien was able to offer his services across all defensive positions, but central midfield was his ‘home’, a place on the pitch where the man nicknamed The Bison could best present his full set of skills. Tough – sometimes brutally so – in the tackle, with stamina to burn and with a howitzer of a shot, Essien could break up offensive play and launch counter-attacks of his own, covering up his lack of passing variety through the simple fact that he could carry the ball to the opposition box quickly and rarely be pushed off it. His move to the Premier League in 2005 was an inspired one, as he slotted into a dominant Chelsea side with ease, quickly becoming a crowd favourite, as well as coach Jose Mourinho's trusted lieutenant. Sadly for the Ghanaian, time waits for no man and 2016 must seem like a lifetime away from his glory-soaked Chelsea days. With a depressing collection of injuries weighing heavily on his body and stripping him of much of what made him great, the past four or five years especially have been tough for Essien. Loaned out to Real Madrid, before heading to Italy and AC Milan as he sought to re-start his faltering career away from Chelsea, Essien eventually accepted he was no longer fit for top flight football, and in 2015 opted to head to Greece and become a leading light for a Panathinaikos side in the middle of a major re-building job. He was understandably presented as the major transfer of the season for the entire league, a player that even in his current state could dominate play against opponents far below the standard he was once used to. Reality, however, once again viciously highlighted that the onceunstoppable force was now a mere fading light. In the handful of matches he managed to play, Essien was certainly no Bison. Gone were those signature outta-my-way runs forward, the thundering shots, the forceful presence on the ball, the fearsome block of footballing muscle in the middle of the park. He was quickly ousted from the starting eleven by coach Andrea Stramaccioni, with both sides patiently waiting for the end of the season, in order to end an unhappy sporting ‘marriage’. The word on the footballing street was that the Essien story (at least on the pitch) was over. Not so, it seems. Essien, The Bison, wasn't quite done. He still had another chapter in his footballing book and it was set to take him far away from European football and straight into the arms of the A-League. Using the FFA's box-fresh guest marquee rule, Melbourne Victory sought to bring Essien their way, following the example of Melbourne City, who had already made their move in signing Tim Cahill, a living legend of Australian football if ever there was one. Essien would surely dry out what was left of the one million dollar pot put aside to help A-League teams sign players outside of their salary cap, but his star quality would be worth it. His experience, too, would elevate Kevin Muscat's side. The Aleague needs stars, Essien was looking for an easier ride − it seemed like the perfect fit. Once again though, and unlike the Essien of old, the Ghanaian backed out of the challenge. A Victory spokesman laid it out plainly: "The club has been in constant discussions with Michael and his repre- sentatives but due to some personal issues Michael has unfortunately decided not to move to Melbourne." Victory coach Kevin Muscat fol- lowed, driving home the fact that the ball was and eventually stayed in Essien's court: "Personally it's disappointing it didn't come to fruition. But as a club we did everything in our powers to sign him. The situation arose and we explored it. It's well past us and now we'll move on." As yet, there has been no official statement from the player himself, but there can be little doubt that his playing days are at an end. It seems rather unjust, for a player of such force and energy, to allow the ending of his footballing tale to be so timid, so ultimately weak. Sure, his body may have hit its limit, sure the man himself may have lost his love for the game, but for a player nicknamed ‘The Bison’, you would have hoped that his last run would have been slightly more triumphant, a tad more battering-ram-ish. Maybe we're just hopeless romantics when it comes to football.
24 September 2016
8 October 2016