Former Ghana international Derek Boateng rates compatriot Michael Essien among the biggest African exports to ever to grace the beautiful game, saying the former Chelsea man deserved more credit than he gets.
Despite helping Ghana qualify for their first-ever World Cup tournament in 2006 and going on to star at the tournament, Essien has been largely criticised for not showing enough commitment to the national team during his playing days.
In 2018, the midfielder said in a TV interview he felt Ghanaians do not appreciate his service to the nation.
“When people talk about Essien, I think they don’t really know him well,” former Fulham midfielder Boateng, who featured alongside Essien at the 2006 World Cup following their days with Ghana’s U17 and 20 sides, told Goal on Sunday.
“I played with him at the Ghana U17s and we moved to the U20s together, we stayed in the same house in Dansoman, so I know this guy in and out. When I hear people say things not appreciating him, I know they are wrong – they don’t know him.
“Sulley Muntari for example, people judge him a lot that he is this or that, but no, they don’t know him. Essien has done so much and everything he achieved in his career is deserving because he’s worked so hard for it.
“No matter what people say about him, he’s a winner and a champion – you can never take that away from him.”
Essien won Ligue 1 twice during his time with French giants Lyon.
After moving to Chelsea in 2005, he helped the Blues win the league in 2005-06 and 2009-10, lifted the FA Cup four times, the League Cup once, the Community Shield once and the Uefa Champions League in 2011-12.
“I would rate him among the greatest African players of all-time. When I’m putting down my [African] XI, Essien will be in the squad. He’s a great player. He’s done so much for Ghana, himself at the club side and he’s a good man. I’m happy for him. I respect him and we stay friends,” Boateng remarked.
Despite a glittering career, especially at club level, Essien remains among the list of illustrious men never to have won the African Footballer of the Year award.
The former Real Madrid and Chelsea man placed third in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009 and second in 2007.
“He should have won the African best player award, I think in 2006-2007 during his time under [Jose] Mourinho at Chelsea,” Boateng continued.
“That time when he came second, we all thought he was going to win and we all felt bad he didn’t win it. He deserved it.
“I don’t think he cares o much about it now. He’s always a happy person and thinking positive.”
Boateng and Essien starred for Ghana at the 2001 Fifa U20 World Cup in Germany, where the West Africans claimed the silver medal.
They were reunited at senior level for the 2006 World Cup and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.