FAREWELL MICHAEL ESSIEN
Michael Essien has today (Monday) left Chelsea to join AC Milan.
The move brings down the curtain on the Ghanaian's eight and a half years as one of our players, a period which saw him play a crucial role during the most successful time in the club's history. He moves on having won two Premier League titles, the Champions League, three FA Cups and one League Cup.
Speaking about the departure, Jose Mourinho said: 'To show Michael respect is to not stop him going. We would have been happy had he stayed because he is fantastic player for the team, but he's given everything for the club and a great chance arrived for his future.
'I know he can continue to play at a high level and I wish him success and happiness in Italy and at the World Cup in Brazil.'
Essien signed for Chelsea from Lyon in the summer of 2005 and made his debut as a substitute in a 1-0 win over Arsenal, with his first goal arriving later that season in another London derby, a 2-1 win versus Tottenham Hotspur.
During his first season at Stamford Bridge he was part of a midfield trio, alongside Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele, which was instrumental as we secured a second consecutive Premier League title under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho.
Essien epitomised the 'team player', with his versatility marking him out as an integral member of the squad. Giving everything whenever he pulled on a Chelsea shirt, his ability to play at right-back or in the centre of defence, as well as his preferred midfield role, ensured his importance to a side competing up to the latter stages of multiple competitions. While scoring goals was not a very frequent occurrence, when they did come they were often spectacular.
His blistering long-range strike at home to Arsenal during the 2006/07 campaign earned him the club's Goal of the Season award. And all his breathtaking skills came together in his burst forward from full-back and shot that beat Valencia in the closing moments in Spain, sending Chelsea into the Champions League semi-finals that year.
He ended the campaign by producing a faultless display in central defence as we beat Manchester United to lift the FA Cup at the first final in the new Wembley Stadium.
Essien was rewarded for his performances by winning the club's Player of the Year award for 2007, the first African to collect the accolade.
A year later, his flexibility was once again in evidence when he was deployed at right-back in the Champions League final in Moscow. In the weeks before he had scored important goals as Chelsea remained in the domestic title race until the final weekend.
Essien missed a large chunk of the 2008/09 season after damaging a cruciate ligament while away on international duty with Ghana, but he returned with the campaign edging towards its conclusion.
The disappointment of losing a Champions League semi-final to Barcelona in controversial circumstances - Essien having put the Blues on the verge of going through with another stunning Goal of the Season - was tempered by a triumphant FA Cup campaign. His physical presence in midfield was pivotal as we overcame Arsenal in the last four and Everton at Wembley.
With Guus Hiddink departing after that final, Carlo Ancelotti was installed as the new manager ahead of the 2009/10 season, and though it started well, Essien's involvement was curtailed by another cruel injury blow.
He scored in a 5-0 win over Blackburn Rovers and netted his first brace for the club against Wolverhampton Wanderers, before picking up a hamstring injury in early December 2009.
The muscle tear kept him sidelined until January, when he travelled to the Africa Cup of Nations as part of the Ghana squad. His tournament was brought to a premature conclusion however, when he broke down in training with a knee problem, and after undergoing surgery he was ruled out for the remainder of the season, playing no part as we secured a Premier League and FA Cup Double for the first time in our history. He also missed the first World Cup played in Africa.
Following his return, Essien enjoyed a productive 2010/11 season, playing 44 games and passing the 200-appearance landmark for Chelsea, but on the first day of pre-season training ahead of the following campaign, with the Blues by now under the guidance of Andre Villas-Boas, he picked up another cruciate injury, ruling him out for six months.
He made his comeback as a second-half substitute in a 1-0 win over Sunderland in January 2012, earning a wonderful, heartfelt ovation from the Stamford Bridge faithful and he was able to make 19 appearances, eight as a substitute, before the season was out, although he remained on the bench in both the FA Cup and Champions League finals.
On the final day of the 2012 summer transfer window, Essien joined Real Madrid on a season-long loan, linking up with Mourinho once more. During his time at the Bernabeu he made 30 appearances and scored twice, including a goal in his and Mourinho's final game at the club before player and manager returned to Stamford Bridge.
Essien made his first appearance of the current campaign in our 2-0 Capital One Cup win at Swindon Town, when he skippered the side, with his two Premier League starts coming against Southampton and Crystal Palace.
He was captain once more in our 2-0 FA Cup win at Derby County earlier this month, fittingly as the game proved to be his final start in a Chelsea shirt.
In total, Essien made 256 appearances for the Blues with 33 of them as a substitute. He scored 25 goals.
Everybody at Chelsea Football Club would like to thank Michael for his distinguished service and wish him the very best of luck for the next chapter in his career. He will always be welcome at Stamford Bridge.