Essien: The barbecue that changed my life

Ahead of a meeting between two sides he represented with distinction, Michael Essien remembers his time at Lyon, reveals how his move to Stamford Bridge came about, and tells us what we can expect tonight…

Michael Essien had established himself as one of the dominant central midfielders in European football. The Lyon team he was playing for were a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League, regularly reaching the latter stages of the competition.

Three consecutive Ligue 1 titles pointed to domestic dominance, too, but when the new champions of England came calling in the summer of 2005, Essien couldn’t say no. He takes up the story.

‘The whole thing came about one afternoon while I was at Florent Malouda’s house, having a barbecue,’ the Ghanian tells us. Malouda was at Lyon with him.

‘He got a call from Didier Drogba asking about me, and he said, “Oh, Michael is right here.” He put him on the phone to me and that’s how everything started.

‘It was a very long saga, that transfer, and very frustrating that it took so long because I really wanted to come to the Premier League. In the end we managed to come to an agreement and I was really excited when I first walked into the club at Chelsea.

‘As I said, it was my dream to play in the Premier League and Chelsea showed a very big interest in me, so when the deal went through I was very happy. I came in and everything went well.

‘I had two or three years with Lyon and it was good, I enjoyed myself and I still have some friends there,’ adds Essien.

‘It was good for my career. Lyon is one of the biggest clubs in France and I remember when they came in for me, I just said yes straight away. I kept developing there and I got a big move to Chelsea.’

Essien says both clubs remain close to his heart, especially Chelsea where he played for nearly a decade and won so much silverware, including the Champions League in 2012. He is currently back at Cobham maintaining his fitness in case a chance to continue his playing career arises. ‘It feels like I’ve never gone!’ he laughs.

When it comes to assessing tonight’s meeting, which precedes our Premier League bow on Saturday afternoon, nobody is better placed to do so than Essien, who played over 350 games during his time with the two clubs.

‘Lyon are still a good side. We just saw one of the boys, Bertrand Traore, go there and he will have something to prove. It’s a friendly game but in football there are no friendlies – it should be a good match and hopefully I’ll get to watch it.

‘I think we are all looking forward to the new season because last year was a bit disappointing for us. We have a new manager and we have to support him – hopefully we will have a good season.’

You can buy tickets to tonight's game against Lyon at the Stamford Bridge ticket office until 4pm.