Sports Features of Thursday, 2 August 2012
Chelsea have spent big this summer as owner Roman Abramovich has bankrolled a spending spree in an attempt to make good on the club’s success last season, but with a squad in transition, one man is in danger of being left behind – midfielder Michael Essien.
The Ghanaian really is the forgotten man of Stamford Bridge and while before his return was hailed with excitement, now it’s just a minor point of order.
He’s had a dreadful time with injury, it has to be said, rupturing his anterior ligaments in July 2011 after suffering from a similar injury back in 2008 and the side has now simply moved on without him.
Essien has made just 72 league appearances in the last four seasons, making only more than 15 appearances in one of those campaigns, back in 2010-11 under Carlo Ancelotti, and there is a worry that he’s lost that aggression and energy that made him such a force at his peak.
He was undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in the world for a time, particularly around 2007-8, after finally settling into the Premier League and before his injury problems.
While Times columnist Gabriel Marcotti once laughably claimed he’d rather have Essien than Xavi in his side, it does highlight his standing within the game.
This summer’s transfer activity, though, could make the 29-year-old even more obsolete as it truly does seem like the dawning of a new era.
It all comes complete with a shift in the club’s well-worn powerful style of play in favour of a more technical school of thought, in what represents a deliberate and considered attempt to try and get the best out of £50m striker Fernando Torres.
Competition for a starting place will be fierce and Di Matteo is thought to be edging towards starting with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Lampard in a more reserved role as in years gone by as he enters the twilight of his career.
The £65m spent on the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin point to a clear change in style, and with Juan Mata, Raul Meireles and Ramires all competing for the midfield spots up for grabs, Essien’s claim for a regular starting position looks to be weakening.
Essien, for all his strengths, is hardly the most technical player in the Chelsea squad and due to his age and past fitness concerns, it’s unlikely that Roberto Di Matteo will consider handing him a regular starting role, especially with John Obi Mikel and Oriol Romeu to compete with.
Both Mikel and Romeu are more durable options that can be relied upon over the course of an arduous campaign, while they’re both more comfortable in possession, playing it short and simple in front of the back four, and their discipline is likely to be rewarded with regular football, as opposed to the more barnstorming style of Essien.
The sight of seeing Essien stuck on the bench during last season’s Champions League final, despite the side having four players ruled out with suspension, just serves to show how far down the pecking order he has fallen.
The club has moved on without him, reluctantly you have to admit, but Essien no longer fits into the style that they are going with.
He’s likely to be on a fair whack in terms of wages too, and if rumours are to be believed, alongside Florent Malouda and Yossi Benayoun, he is likely to be deemed surplus to requirements this summer.
It’s odd to think of Essien as deadwood at any club, such was his presence before and the integral part he played in the club’s back-to-back title winning teams, but the club have certainly been patient enough in waiting for Essien to get back to full fitness, it’s just not worked out and a parting of the ways seems inevitable now.
It’s a shame, really, because in his heyday he was an absolute machine, a monster of a central midfielder that could do a bit of everything, but much like former Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves, his career and potential has simply been ruined by a whole swathe of career-threatening knee injuries.
Injury has sapped him of the very quality that set him apart, his power. While he has always been a bit dodgy in the air, he more than compensated for it with his superb box-to-box ability.
Time waits for no man (or Norman, for all you Jonathan Creek fans out there) and while it may be unfortunate that he has been robbed of his peak years, his time at Stamford Bridge looks like coming to an end as the moving on of the old guard steps up a gear.