‘The Black Stars 10’ series will give the reader an idea of the greatest players to illuminate the Ghana national team in the past 20 years.
You might disagree with some of the picks, and most likely wouldn’t also agree with the order, but the aim is to ensure you enjoy the stories. You can read more about the introduction to the series here.
In football, players have earned some striking nicknames over the years, particularly with reference to the most fearsome of animals. The tiger was likened to Radamel Falcao, a Colombian finisher who displayed power, strength, potency and a marvelous eye for goal.
These virtues were well suited to the man who attacked his prey with precision or in this case, became a thorn in the side of top European clubs during his glory years. In Ghana, we had ‘The Bison’; a moniker given to the very gifted Michael Essien.
The bison is an animal that symbolizes good health, strength, stamina and determination. In his years with the Black Stars and in Europe, Essien displayed those qualities plus an impressive technical acumen. The 37-year-old was, in short, a complete specimen.
It is no wonder that former Black Stars captain, Stephen Appiah, described him as a ‘midfield general’ during his time.
“I enjoyed playing with a lot of midfielders in the national team but the Bison (in reference to Essien) was the Bison. He was the general,” he revealed in an Instagram live chat organized by Betway in May 2020.
Essien, like a great number of footballers, had humble beginnings. He established himself in Liberty Professionals who at the time, were the hub for outstanding young talent.
He was impressive after moving to Bastia but at French giants Lyon, his star radiated throughout the league. A Ligue 1 player of the year award in the 2004/05 season convinced Chelsea to break the bank for his services. In London, the rest was history.
On the international level, he was exceptional too. His breakthrough was in the 1999 U-17 World Championship, clinching a bronze medal with the team. Two years later, he earned a silver medal with the U-20 side in the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship.
Essien made his debut with the senior national team in 2002 and never looked back. The Black Stars qualified for their first World Cup tournament in 2006 and he was at the heart of the midfield with Stephen Appiah, Anthony Annan and Sulley Muntari.
2006 was a magical year for Essien. He won the BBC African Footballer of the Year award and earned a place in a CAF Team of the Year for the second consecutive time. A year later, he was recognized by the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) as Ghana’s Player of the Year.
In the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, the former AC Milan player wowed fans on home soil as Ghana secured the bronze medal. He was included in the team of the tournament and Claude Le Roy, the Black Stars head coach at the time, believed that he should have been named best player.
“For me Essien was by far the best player of the tournament and the second best player was Sulley Muntari,” Le Roy told the official newspaper of the Ghana Football Association, GFA News.
Despite rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament later that year, Essien worked hard to return to the national team and he managed to play most of Ghana’s 2010 World Cup qualification matches. Jose Mourinho, one of his former coaches, was left impressed by his attitude despite suffering major injuries.
“He was ready to die for the fellow players, for the club, for the manager, and he was ready to play like he did for me at Real Madrid with a knee that was not a knee anymore,” Mourinho revealed during an interview with Malaysian broadcaster Astro SuperSport in 2018.
“It was a destroyed knee but with that personality, that desire and that mentality, he suffered, but always with a smile. Michael smiles a lot.”
“I loved so many of my players but I think Michael would be on the podium for sure.”
It is such a shame that another injury robbed him of a place in the history making 2010 squad. It was also heartbreaking to see him limited to a bit part role in the 2014 World Cup.
Ghanaians are now seeing a new generation of players under the guidance of Charles Akonnor.
In this current age, the spotlight has been shown on Arsenal’s Thomas Partey but it will be hard to forget the selfless and quality service of Essien. He is and will always be Ghana’s bison.
No 6 of ‘The Black Stars 10’ will be released on November 6 at 9am so keep an eye on the sports page.