Will Essien be hit or miss at Milan?
In this article, Guest Contributor Nii Ayitey Tetteh examines the key factors influencing whether former Chelsea star and Black Stars hero Michael Essien will thrive at AC Milan.
It was very uncharacteristic of him. Previously, when he spoke, it had seemed like a huge bother.
However, on this occasion, he found words, and strong ones too.
On his official Twitter page, he posted: “Haters will broadcast your failure but whisper your success. Medicals done, looking forward to start my new life with AC Milan”.
Bam! That was one big hit! He had drawn the bowstring to its elastic limit and let go of the arrow in the direction of the ‘haters’. The message was a quick response to media reports that he, Michael Essien, had failed his medical examination as he sought to finalise his switch from Chelsea to AC Milan. Now, as to who those ‘haters” were, that wasn’t significant, rather, it was what lay between the fine print; the tinge of frustration, the passion, the quest and the yearning to prove himself, that was.
Those unspoken words in the message convey the mood of a man earnestly seeking redemption in a career gravely affected by at least three major surgeries on his knee, which was (allegedly) the subject of the ‘failed’ medical.
In hindsight, Essien would realise that his twitter response was constructed in the heat of the moment, that the Italian daily, La Repubblica, which first reported the “failure”, were perhaps just doing their routine reportage with no malicious intentions. And assuming they were crafting mischief, it would be nothing unusual, we all have detractors, not least, superstars of Essien’s stature.
It’s a distraction Essien doesn’t need to focus on; rather he should just be concerned with settling into a starring role at AC Milan. That is the kind of target he should be aiming his arrow at.
Will Essien, now aged 31, be a hit or miss at Milan? It all depends on two factors coinciding.
Adapting in a difficult Atmosphere
If you were a new follower of the game and you saw AC Milan’s mid table position in the Italian Serie A, you might be deceived about the stature of the club. Seven-time European champions and 18-time Serie A champions, the club have been a credible force in club football.
Once upon a time, Milan dominated Italy, backed by the financial muscle of owner Silvio Berlusconi. When they coveted a player in any part of the world, they invariably got him, and at a point in time, had the world’s best and expensive players on their roster. However, a deterioration in the finances of Berlusconi and his Fininvest group, has been inextricably tied to that of Milan’s.
In the last couple of years, Milan has not been able to compete in terms of attracting star players or retaining them, and in cases where they have, those players have been quickly sold. Some prominent examples are Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin Prince Boateng. When Milan signed players, they did for minimum expense or almost for free as in the case of Kaka and Keisuke Honda.
This, combined with a growing injury list, has seen Milan plummet down the classement and they have largely been unable to attain the heights they did during the 2010/11 season, the last time this fallen giant won the Serie A title.
Last season, Milan, helped by Mario Balloteli’s goals, sneaked into 3rd place to secure a Champions League place.
This season, recently sacked coach, Massimiliano Allegri’s loss of control over the team, and the lack of star quality, culminated in Milan’s 11th league position, before the manager was sacked. Former player, Clarence Seedorf, has been appointed with the hope that he will use his aura and personality as a rallying point to rescue Milan’s tottering season. Seedorf has, however, recognized that it will take more than his personality and working knowledge of the club to succeed; buying star players will be a major factor and with this in mind, he has begun by roping in Michael Essien at minimal expenditure. It may seem that the external atmosphere is being created for Essien to thrive, but his success will surely depend on how he adjusts to his new home.
The Pirlo Precedent
For Essien to succeed, he needs not look beyond Italy.
At rival club Juventus there is a player, 34 years old and an ex-Milan star, in the twilight of his career but arguably at the pinnacle of his influence.
Andrea Pirlo, was a mainstay at AC Milan until 2011, when was released on the assumption that his best days were behind him. Pirlo went across the country and resuscitated his career at Juve. He understood that, as per his age, he didn’t have to play every game, nor did he have to do all of the demanding running like a box-to-box midfielder.
Rather, as a deep-lying playermaker, Pirlo became the fulcrum of the Juve team and is the reason why the club enjoy such dominance among their compatriots. Pirlo has been duly recognised as the club’s outstanding player.
Essien could also pick a leaf from compatriot and friend Sulley Muntari. Discarded and written off at Internazionale, Muntari picked himself up in the red and black half of town once he had the confidence and encouragement of Allegri, who, incidentally, was on the coaching staff at his former club, Udinese.
Essien has already enjoyed some kind words from Seedorf who has described him as a warrior and all-round player. With such endorsement, it is up to Essien to be mentally strong, ignore the ‘haters’, focus on his training and also accept that his knee will not allow him to be the physical force he used to be. Rather, he should build his game around his wits and experience as he competes with Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel de Jong and Sulley Muntari in defensive midfield. Pirlo teaches him the advantages of growing old gracefully, Muntari shows him the rewards available for overcoming adversity.
Only when he realises this can he be close to making the impact he desires at AC Milan. Hit or not? We can only truly be able to say in retrospect. For now, I leave Essien with a different kind of message, a quote, not one from Twitter, but of very personal importance to this writer: “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it back. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. Just focus and keep aiming!”
This article was also featured (unedited) on Ghanasoccernet