Saturday, May 29, 2010

Michael Essien's injury: is he irreplaceable?

Ghana’s radio and TV waves are on fire with the news that Michael Essien will not play in South Africa.

That the news is a telling blow is a given. The question is this: how would it affect our play?

Saw it coming
Many comments in the info-sphere in the past few hours show that a great many people were mentally prepared of this, given Michael’s own recent comments. In April, he told the Chelsea website that:

“If I make it for the World Cup then great – if not I have my whole career ahead of me. The last thing I want is to rush back and cause more problems down the line.”

A sound argument, but when he said that, many started feeling that the guy knew he wasn’t in good shape. Essien, as we know him, is a combative guy who does not go down unless he really is hurt. This is such a case.

The debate has been mostly about how unfortunate the whole thing is and crucially, how this would affect Ghana. Would we look back and say Essien’s absence cost us dearly?

Before we go on, take this quick poll:

So who replaces him?
Who in the Ghanaian team can bring what Essien brings to the side? In my opinion, nobody. His box-to-box effectiveness and his careful, accurate, passing as well as his multi-positional play and penchant to move forward and be an auxiliary striker are…well….priceless. I’m sure you agree.

Now, let’s look at the options.

Kwadwo Asamoah
I think the 21-year old Udinese dynamo is Essien-lite, but that’s all he is, Essien-lite. Yes, his passing ability is arguably better than Michael’s but he remains a very attacking minded midfielder. I’m yet to see anyone play Kwadwo as a utility player. That said, I feel he is the nearest to an Essien replacement in the Ghana setup.

Derek Boateng
Talented? Yes. Versatile? Yes. Essien’s kind of versatile? Nope. Derek is a good player whose form this past season with Getafe has been blistering, but he is miles away from being Michael. Derek is a good distributor of the ball and like Essien, can hold on to play if need be. But when it comes to strength and bull-like play, you have the wrong guy.

Bernard Yao Kumordzi
Think Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria of Patrick Vieira of France. Perfect clone. A midfielder based in Greece with Panionios. The 25-year-old has also represented Norrkoping in Sweden and Egaleo in Greece having started his career in Ghana.

His tall and languid (not tall and lazy as some say) nature endears him to some brand of coaches, but he cannot replace Essien. Simple as that. A littel more about him: Bernard made his international debut for the Black Stars against Brazil in March 2007 and scored his first goal against Iran soon afterwards.

So what do we do?
Essien’s exclusion is now known, but we do not know if he may be taken in a Beckham-esque capacity to motivate the team. That would be a waste of space, because Essien is a very shy man, in terms of telling colleagues what to do and dictating play. He is not the Appiah kinda leader, sorry.

If Essien is dropped altogether, then it means that an extra seat on the plane needs to be filled. The bottom line is this we have to move on. And the coach knows it.

“There are other young and hungry players who will be equally passionate to play.”

The next few days would be very interesting. Who would/should Milovan put in Essien’s stead and how would it affect the team? Or are we even overblowing the issue?

Let’s hear you, while you vote as well.