A BREAKING NEWS alert popped up on my screen and distracted me in the middle of composing a text to Stephen Appiah.

Just as i had finished reading the release by Scottish football giants Celtic about their capture of 20-year-old Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama from Belgian club Germinal Beerschot. Celtic were clearly pleased at landing their latest African acquisition. But my concern was getting the views of Appiah on an entirely different matter.

Ironically, and obviously unaware of Essien’s latest injury, the new Celtic signing made a comment about the Ghanaian saying, ” ….and i hope to follow in the footsteps of great players like Michael Essien….”

I have not seen the Nairobi born player in action yet but word on the street is that he is ”very good” and obviously worth the risk of a four-year contract having won his appeal against the refusal of a work permit to play in the Scottish Premier League.

The college graduate is also educated and this perhaps also aided his own efforts along with his agent to get him his biggest and most lucrative deal yet.

The midfielder who can also assume defensive roles said “After reading the club’s history, I have chosen 67 as my squad number to show appreciation to the 1967 squad.”

You see, Wanyama’s story grabbed headlines when a work permit application was initially automatically refused because Kenya is ranked outside the top 75 in the world, currently standing at 130 on Fifa’s latest list.

But a Scottish Football Association committee, which heard a plea from Celtic manager Neil Lennon via a conference call from Australia, gave the go-ahead for his permit to be finalised by the UK Border Agency (UBA).

So where was I? Ah yes, from one happy African about to kick start his football career to another at the crossroads. Michael Essien is in serious trouble and he needs serious help to defeat the demons of injuries that have been attacking him over the past few seasons. Once upon a time some of us could swear that superstition and spirituality play no role in modern football and must not be dabbled with the beautiful game. Yet we are the very same people who pray for victory before every match in the name of God.

Back in London, there is no talk of spirituality or juju or some nonsense regarding a bad luck girl or two. No, it’s pure sympathy for the bison as the Ghanaian is also known.

Yes I am an optimist but there is a sense of hopelessness about the subtle tribute like messages coming out of Stamford Bridge these last few days and I don’t like it.

As i prepared and cleaned up this piece, i read the latest lamentations from former Chelsea star Jody Morris who has labelled Michael’s latest injury as a biggest blow to the club ahead of the new season.

As a former player and insider, Morris may know something the rest of us will be told later but i pray it does not come to that. No doubt Michael’s latest battle raises concerns about his long-term future at the top and gives new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas his first major problem. How on earth do you replace the bison and with whom?

Having played 42 games last season many felt that Michael had overcome his injury challenges but this fresh setback means the Portuguese manager must find his replacement urgently.

Back in Accra, tongues are wagging and those who claim that they care are in mourning. A few months ago some of these same ”we love Michael posse” were questioning why the player should even be allowed back in the national team. One fact is certain. Michael will NOT be back playing for Chelsea and Ghana in a few weeks.

Self denial can kill but there are also those who lament privately including some of his close aides who follow him gleefully when there is something to gain and furiously accuse the player’s alleged ”tormentor” but keep mute when the matter comes up for discussion.

The consequences be damned but I will speak of what i know and what has been in discussion within the tightly knit football family in Ghana. ”O Michael’s issue is sad but he must keep away from certain people because he knows they are bad for him” Who are those people and what has the player ever done to deserve their poison? This is Ghana where people gossip and accuse in the night but come daybreak, they will deny they even know you.

My last conversation with Michael in Accra was when he was in the company of Emmanuel Adebayor, Derek Boateng and Stephen Appiah and taking it easy before the new season.
For so long, I have desperately tried to convince him of the need to sit down and do a full WHO IS MICHAEL ESSIEN interview …..he half-heartedly agreed but we did not set a date; more out of hope that he would have a good think about it and i presume out of relief on his part. Essien does not like talking about himself.

So i called his close pal and former Black Stars captain Stephen Appiah who suffered an even worse fate and at a point was told he ”may die” if he played football again.
Appiah defied the odds and rose from the dead to play again, get a club and go to his second World Cup tournament. ”You have to look at the situation and fight because the only other alternative is to give up and lose everything” Appiah’s own shocking injury and absence from the game was a subject of great debate and still continues to baffle doctors who ruled him out of the game for his own sake.

But i was curious to know one thing…..did Appiah and Essien walk the same path and were they bitten by the same fangs or is it just a case of extreme bad luck striking Ghana’s two most iconic footballers of their generation? Appiah was unimpressed and declared ” Look, this is Africa and we all have our beliefs and in football sometimes people can stretch the imagination too far but God knows best and i cannot speak for Michael but all i can say is that right now he needs our prayers and all the support he can get”

So where does that leave us? Taking the unwanted path of stating ”facts” that are actually opinions and sentiments of those closest to him. Sadly i cannot tell you those who genuinely love Michael for who he is and those who love him for what he can do for them. God knows the truth and perhaps so too does Michael…..but please spare a prayer for him.

Appiah summed up our conversation when he soberly stated ”I just spoke to Michael and he will have his operation today but he knows that it can be a long, dark and slippery road to recovery and if you are not strong in your head, you will never come back…..Michael is strong; believe me he will be back”

THIRD TIME UNLUCKY

* September 2008 – misses six months following injury while on Ghana duty
* January 2010 – ruled out of World Cup after breaking down at Africa Cup of Nations
* July 2011 – injured in training and undergoes further tests.
* 11 July 2011Set to undergo surgery on injured Knee.

By Yaw Ampofo Ankra

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