ESSIEN: FROM THE BEGINNING
Twelve months ago Michael Essien was coming to terms with the fact he would miss Chelsea's pre-season preparations and, as it transpired, the first half of the campaign to follow.
A cruciate ligament injury, suffered cruelly in the first week of training last July, was the last thing needed by a player who had been out of action previously with two serious knee injuries. When he returned in January he found it hard to win a regular place in the side as it closed in on two trophies.
It is no wonder then that Essien is now in high spirits as he travels with the squad to the United States, well rested during the summer and raring to go.
'It is hard during the season if you miss pre-season,' he confirms, 'and so it is good to start and hopefully finish the whole pre-season. So I am looking forward to that and we will see what happens. So far so good and I am looking forward to the season.
'My summer was relaxing, nothing too busy, I was in France and Ghana.'
Back home where he grew up, Awutu Breku, Essien in June opened a new playground funded by his foundation. He was accompanied by former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah.
'It was good to open the playground for the schoolkids,' he says. 'It is a new thing there and there is not a lot in the village. It has small things for the kids to play with like little castles and the opening went really well, the kids were happy.'
As he returns to the normal routine, there is one major difference for Essien at Chelsea this season; his good friends and fellow Africans Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are no longer sharing the same dressing room with him.
'I will miss them but that is the game, it is part of our job and we have to deal with it. I wish them the very best of luck and we still keep in touch.
'It was a very good way for them to say goodbye to the club, playing the Champions League Final because we have been looking for that trophy for a long time.'