2014 World Cup feature: Why Michael Essien must be shifted to centre Back

Published on: 27 May 2014
2014 World Cup feature: Why Michael Essien must be shifted to centre Back
Michael Essie

“What’s the fun in watching 22 grown men chase after one little ball?”… no, you don’t have to answer that really… but I can bet, that like me, you may have gotten that line, accompanied with the usual shrug of shoulder from non-football enthusiasts, a couple of times.

Sometimes you attempt to enlighten, sometimes you just leave them to wallow in their ignorance.

Today I will attempt neither; rather, I will engage you, my fellow “footballians” to mentally strategize how Ghana’s Black Stars can maximize the talent of one its biggest stars.

Hopefully, while we are at it, “non footballians” will get schooled and appreciate the bigger picture; which is that football is more than running around in circles; it is about strategy, it is about mind games.

In football, as with a chess game, the movement of the pieces do matter, but not as much as the strategy behind the movement which could decide either victory or loss.

As the Black Stars head to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the technical team is faced with how to address the team’s defensive frailties and make that unit solid.

One of the options to fix that problem is to move a big knight to the central defense. Who could that knight be? Well, I am thinking a certain Michael Essien and here are my reasons.

State of the defense

The whole has always been greater than the sum of its parts, hasn’t it? Ghana on the other hand has been busy summing up the parts while ignoring the whole.

Those parts; Samuel Inkoom and Jonathan Mensah, both with World Cup experience form 2010 in South Africa; Jeffrey Schlupp, Harrison Afful, Daniel Opare, John Boye, Jerry Akaminko and Rashid Sumaila; all had decent outings with their clubs in the just ended season.

Clearly, it’s not a question of talent. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s almost becoming like a broken record pointing out the lack of coordination and leadership within Ghana’s defensive unit, since ex captain, John Mensah faded.

Game after game, from last year’s Africa Nations Cup to the World Cup qualifiers, we witnessed the defense all over the place, more reactionary than responsive.

Granted that individually, these defenders have dug in to save sticky situations, but the level of opposition at the World Cup, is going to go several notches way up.

At that level, the absence of a leader to whip the defense back in line when they get overly excited, leave their lines and disturb the shape of the team, will come to hurt the team; the absence of an organizer to ensure the back line is in sync when defending high up the pitch or setting an offside trap will leave the defense vulnerable.

The need for an experienced centre back to read and anticipate opposition moves, alert his unit to track runners and close up the channels cannot be overemphasized.

Such attributes, which require physical and mental strength, as well as emotional intelligence, are either innate or learned over time.

Unfortunately, though the current set up is blessed with such physical attributes, they are short on the other crucial attributes.

This is where Michael Essien comes in, with his experience to fine tune those parts into one wholesome defensive unit! Now, that’s a move worth making. Shall we?

 What Essien brings

It wasn’t too long ago when defenders could get by, being tough-as-nails, no nonsense tacklers, ball hoofers, (we call that ‘agor’ in the local parlance) and just being plain mean and intimidating.

The game has evolved and while those attributes are still required of the modern day defender, coaches and managers have realized that a defender, who is more perspective, spatially aware, one who can play the ball calmly out of defense and most importantly, one who is able to imbibe team strategy is crucial to having a water tight defense.

Now for the uninitiated, why send Michael Essien, a later day midfielder back into central defense?

Well, am sure you didn’t miss the qualification of his position as ‘later day’ because he started his career as a central defender before he was eventually converted to a defensive midfielder when he joined French Club, FC Bastia from Dansoman based Liberty Professionals.

That Essien knows the art of defending is unquestionable; it is why several top coaches, especially Jose Mourinho have deployed him in different defensive positions across the entire backline.

If he is pushed back to Ghana’s central defense, he will certainly not be disoriented. Yes, the knee surgeries have made him a tad slower, he is less bullish than he used to be, but here is my question, would you rather have him in Ghana’s midfield where there are others in better physical condition or you will rather have him fill in at centre back where his football brain will be more useful and less physically demanding.

It will interest you to know that statistically, defenders run 7 kilometers on the average as compared to 10 kilometers by midfielders.

I say slot Essien at centre back, where he will be like a pivot around which the more physically endowed younger players feed off his higher sense or organization and coordination, while making up for his loss of pace and brawn, it will be the perfect fusion to solve Ghana’s seeming defensive frailty.

That’s my move, now you make yours. The fun has just began!

[email protected]    Follow me on twitter @niithesoccerguy

Comments

  • Viper
    says: 5 years ago
    A good defence help,a better midfield is even more helpful,the coach has to find the right midfield combination,a good midfield taakes pressure off the defenders,Barcelona dominated Europe,not due to their defence but great midfield and strike force,we have what looks like a powerful midfield,the coach simply has to find the right combination and the defence wouldn't be a problem,so having Essien in defence will help nothing.
  • Mumbi
    says: 5 years ago
    With ghanas problems in defence, USA, Germany & Portugal will all dismantal Ghana terribly.
  • Viper
    says: 5 years ago
    ..and not as if we really have a bad defence,we conceded fewer goals in the qualifiers than most,again it boils down to the midfield,can our midfield keep and control the game? If they can, Akaminko,Jonathan and Boye are certainly decent enough to man the defence.The defence is not as bad as people make it seem.
  • Franciel
    says: 5 years ago
    Glad im not alone thinking Essien is the boss we're looking for the defence. Boye and Mensah are good but can't deal with the pressure germans and portuguese can put in a hole game. Essien has the experience to manage our defense. Besides Badu can easily replace him in the midfield. Fatau Opare Boye Essien Afful Ayew Muntari Badu Asamoah Waris Gyan
  • Anokwale
    says: 5 years ago
    He is too short. This was tried at AFCON 2008 and remember what happened???
  • smokey
    says: 5 years ago
    Cant see this working its to bigger risk Essien isnt a center back simple as that.
  • Papa Appiah
    says: 5 years ago
    I don't agree Massa. He is not a centre back. In an emergency during the game, he can be slotted there to do a temporal job. But if top class teams have the opportunity to prepare to target him in the centre back position, we will be in trouble
  • Juice
    says: 5 years ago
    I think Akwasi Appiah should use the warm up matches to test whether he can do well at de centre back before he commit himself for de tournament.Essien is creative and I fink he is on top of his game at de central mid field.Boye and Mensah Can do the job.
  • Benito
    says: 5 years ago
    I think this idea is not bad,my only problem is his 5 8" height is not suitable for this position,and again if he should lose the ball being the "last man",with his lack of speed in recent time,it will be disaster for us.I think the coach can risk that and push rabiu to his role as defensive midfielder.
  • escoblaze
    says: 5 years ago
    yea i totally agree
  • escoblaze
    says: 5 years ago
    there are too many lefties in your squard,,,,,,,,,, thats y i suggest wakaso shld be dropped
  • inusah adam
    says: 5 years ago
    I think the manager should consider that b'cos of the experience he got,more to the point like the writer said that he was a defender before and during the african cup(can 2008) when he drop back into the defence i think he was solid.so is an option to consider if they(technical team) want to solve our team.anyway i wish them(black stars) the best of luck!!!
  • Ijahman
    says: 5 years ago
    This is a very good idea. I am happy to see that I am not the only one thinking this way. It will be less running for Essien if he plays center back instead of midfield where he has to help in attack and also help in defense. He can play the #4 position whereby he will be a little bit in front of Boye at #5. He can then move forward to help the midfield and also the defense. Afful will then play the #2 position then Schlupp plays the #3 position. This will bring a lot of quality in defense and midfield at the same time. If we use this selection then we can go far in the tournament. 1. Kwarasey 2. Afful / Opare 5. Boye 4. Essien 3. Schlupp 6.Muntari / Asamoah 8.Kevin 7. Dede 11. Asamoah / Muntari 10. Warris 9. Gyan I totally believe in this squad
  • Askantwi
    says: 5 years ago
    We can't have Essien in defense. whoever suggests that is a full. Can Essien do better than Jonathan Mensah? We tried that in 2008 and Cameroon beat us in Accra. Essien is much productive in Midfield that any position on the field. It like playing Kwadwo Asamoah at wing back. There is no sense in it. He is just being wasted at that position and Ghana eventually loses. When are we going to use our brain a little bit? If coach Conte had used Asamoah in attacking midfield all the time, Juventus would have done very well in the Champions league.
  • Nana yaw okoampa
    says: 5 years ago
    i second what NII just said because the current defenders possess the same qaulities....and please i want to see Afriyie Acqauch in the defensive midfield role (4-2-3-1) ........... kwarasey afful boye essien schlupp afriyie k.asamoah A.ayew K.boateng atsu Gyan
  • Ijahman
    says: 5 years ago
    I fully second the motion 1. Kwarasey 2. Opare / Afful 3. Schlupp 4. Essien 5. Boye 6. Muntari / K.Asamoah 7. Dede 8. Kevin 9. Gyan 10. Warris 11. Muntari / K. Asamoah 4132 formation with Kevin right behind the two strikers and Essien behind the #6 and in front of the #5.
  • patrick
    says: 5 years ago
    I think dat won't help at all cos all our defenders r active nd at form presently..so why do we have to risk using essien as a defender..boye nd mensah r a mouuth waterin pair in defence while inkoom nd affUl r always excellent...
  • B Kay
    says: 5 years ago
    This article is solely based on sentiment and will be unwise for KA to put Essien in central defense. If you can't find a place for him in the midfield, then he shouldn't be in the starting lineup. There's no way Essien in central defense is anyway close to being better than Boye/Mensah or even a combination of Sumaila or Akaminko.
  • Jay Tee
    says: 5 years ago
    Dnt see the need for this. If Essien is not good enough to be in midfield, let's keep him on the bench or forget about him. we need defenders who are fast, quick at turning, n tall to win ariel balls. Essien currently lacks all this. what he is good at presently is ball distribution n no other player in the team does it better than him. he needs a Rabiu or Badu to win balls for him so he can distribute. playing Essien behind the two strikers is the deal.
  • Watch Over
    says: 5 years ago
    Essien is cool in the midfield I don't think he has enough pace to deal with swift and quick strikers!
  • Donsecret
    says: 5 years ago
    Easien is good but still we will need him in the holding midfied,boy and mensah can help as alot.
  • Akwasi Floric
    says: 5 years ago
    Kwarasey Opare ? Boye Schlupp Essien Muntari A. Ayew K.P Boateng Asmamoah Gyan
  • Kofi
    says: 5 years ago
    WE JUST HAVE TO PRAY SO THAT WHATEVER SELECTION AKWASI APPIAH MAKES,IT SHOULD TAKE US TO THE NEXT LEVEL IN THE TOURNAMENT.AMEN
  • Kofi
    says: 5 years ago
    WE JUST HAVE TO PRAY SO THAT WHATEVER SELECTION AKWASI APPIAH MAKES,IT SHOULD TAKE US TO THE NEXT LEVEL IN THE TOURNAMENT.AMEN
  • Boro
    says: 5 years ago
    Any of the players in the squad could have one reason or the other to excuse themselves from the BS camp. I hear Essien and Muntari are yet to report to camp. Neither Essien nor Muntari will try this attitude on say Mourinho or Seedorf. AA never tolerate this kind of behaviour in your camp if you really mean to do well in this world cup. These duo will never stop pushing their boundary especially Muntari. If Nasri has been dropped from the France squad due to indiscipline why not Essien and Muntari. As you can see these duo do not care whether you are a ' silent killer or loud killer'. They want to tell you that they are untoucheables. Show to us that you are in control or u shd forever hold your peace! Trade mark of black coaches, they always bend the rules.
  • A concerned citizen
    says: 5 years ago
    Watch this 1. Kwarasey 2. Inkoom 4. J.Mensah......5. John Boye...........3.H. Afful 8.KPBoateng. 6. Essien 7. Accam.................9..Gyan...........10. Andre................11. Asamoah Reserves, Muntari Atsu Warris Schlupp Dauda Badu. Acquh This squad can face U.S.A and overcome them The beginning of the tournament should be based on experience and youthful exuberance Inkoom and Jonathan have the world cup experience to start to help the defense. John Boye and Harrison Afful have rich experience in clun and tournaments to add up.[ Others are equally good but don't start them fresh like that but introduce them later] Michael Essien can provide leadership in front of the defenders and can distribute the balls accordingly. KPBoateng is strong to hold the ball and play his free role behind the strikers [so 2 pivots for the midfield.] 7.Accam, Winger with a speed and scoring capabilities.If he could excel in Swedish league then he qualify to go after U.S. defense.Captain 9.Gyan will do what he knows best.10. Andre will continue his dazzling form. 11 Asamoah will help the defense, midfield and join the attack when necessary. Advise, Don't use Sulley and Badu same time at the midfield. Both can loose the balls easily andsometimes Sulley brings people down to cause free kicks which are dangerous in this tournaments. Use Sulley as a winger. Both are very good and scorer of important goals.
  • selfmade
    says: 5 years ago
    The writer has a very solid points and I agreed with him with some of his points but one thing is that, WE SHOULDN'T START ESSIEN AS A CENTRAL DEFENDER for every match but depending on the formation that the coach use, essien can be slot in as a central defender! I said yesterday that we should employ 5-3-2 when we are under intense attack! There are so many advantages with this formation with its COUNTER ATTACKING TACTICS and strong defensive walls! Again with formation, we can maintain our TWO ARROW STRIKERS! In this formation, essien ll go back as a CENTRAL DEFENDER togather with JOHN BOYE whiles JONATHAN MENSAH IS USED AS A LIBERO OR A SWEEPER! When we are less under pressure, essien can move back to aid the two midfielders! Ghana can just rely on just two central midfielders as we have infact the worlds solid midfield! With the 5-3-2 formation, our FULL BACKS can easily initiates attack and even can fail to recover in time but can't affect us becasus we have two central defenders with a solid SWEEPER! We have good, modern full backs and we even score most of our goals from our RIGHT SIDE but the only problem with our full backs is their DEFENSIVE recovery rates and this formation will easily solved this problem!!
  • na kwame
    says: 5 years ago
    we are playing against tough teams or let me say countries who are a little more or more better than us in many things...so there is always the so called fifa referee favour.....our players should avoid unnecessary fouls around and in the 18 boxx....well it hurts much when i think of pentsil doing that unnecessary foul there against.... uruguay's forlan...hmmmmmmm....Asamoah gyan was not the only cause....these are fouls that we shopuld try to prevent....
  • candler
    says: 5 years ago
    i like ayiteys thinking,essien will be perfect
  • Di Carlo
    says: 5 years ago
    That is a good idea as long as Essien is fit and not gonna give any floppy pass.I believe our midfield is well stucked up and Essien's absense will not be missed that much,if he can help at the central defense it is a good strategy,hope the coach can try that game plan in the friendlies.I dont think any of the present defenders can do much better than Essien in terms of organizing,coordinating and keeping that important defense line;maybe only jonathan mensah..GO BLACKSTARS!
  • Di Carlo
    says: 5 years ago
    That is a good idea as long as Essien is fit and not gonna give away any sloppy passes at the back.I believe our midfield is dynamic and well stucked up,so Essien's absense will not be missed that much,if he can help at the central defense it is a good strategy,hope the coach can try that game plan in the friendlies.I dont think any of the present defenders can do much better than Essien in terms of organizing,coordinating and keeping that important last line of defense;maybe only jonathan mensah..GO BLACKSTARS!
  • KS
    says: 5 years ago
    you right. Referee favour will kill us as fifa would like to see Germany and Portugal advance for ticket and television sales. Asamoah did us an injustice but Paintil was a problem in a few games. we can only keep our fingers crossed.
  • KS
    says: 5 years ago
    People, People, Please. Just becos we lost in 2008 with Essien playing defense does not mean it was his fault. Stop commenting without analyzing what you say or write. Go back and watch the game on You-tube. Essien did his part, the other defender didnt stop when Essien did causing the attacker to be onside. how is that Essiens fault?
  • Gogee
    says: 5 years ago
    Essien's tackle is not good lately, he dread going into tackles, better he still sits in front of the defense. There's no reason to panic about our central defense
  • anokwale
    says: 5 years ago
    You are correct. If Essien is in Brazil it should be to come off of the bench. He simply is not the same. He might be very helpful in 30 to 20 minute stretches at the end of a game. However, he will get tired as a starter. This is what I think should happen if we are truly looking for victory here: RB: Akaminko, CB: J. Mensah, CB: Boye, LB: Opare DM: Kasa AM: KPB, LW: Muntari (take out at the 60 minute mark), RW: Dede FW: Waris, FW: Gyan
  • Ken
    says: 5 years ago
    USA and Germany have worse defensive problems than Ghana. We have players to form a water-tight back line. AA just need need to try certain players: Akaminko is a right-back at his club and Jeffrey is double-footed defender, a winger and a striker. K Asamoah is also a defender. Recently, Jonathan played as a left-back for club. Let's support AA to come up with the strongest defensive strategy ever seen in the Black Stars.
  • Edward, Maryland
    says: 5 years ago
    Of late, Essen hesitates to tackle. His injuries have taken a toll on him. His mis-kick of balls is so worrisome, and he is prone to fouls. Essien's as the last man before the keeper will be suicidal. Don't forget he is slower now, and is only 5'8'' in height. Check him against forwards like Ronaldo. I'll keep him in DM. Our defense is not that bad that we should panic, and take desperate measures. When Essien played central defender for Mourinho , he was about 4 years younger and before the many surgeries. I know as an African we love our soccer heroes and want to hold on longer to them. No wonder some of us want John Mensah and keeper Kingston to come back. But the reality of the matter is, Essien is not the same old bisson who used to run over midfielders and defenders. He is now old and patched up by the many surgeries he has had.
  • Dr Who
    says: 5 years ago
    Essien lacks pace so why would you put him in central defence?...is it a way to expose him or what?...Essiens recovery rate is very bad even as a midfielder so why do u attempt such a suicudal change.The Essien we know is not the same now.Ask Mourinho...Any coach that will suggest or attempt to place him in CD is indeed a bad coach.
  • Leslie
    says: 5 years ago
    Height is not an absolute necessity in a central defender. Fabio Canavaro is one of the greatest centre backs in recent times. He is the only defender in recent times to have been named the best player in the world by FIFA(2006). Canavaro was not a tall central defender. What he lacked in height, he made up with great jumping ability and excellent timing. Essien is a good jumper and an excellent header of the ball. I think he will be a good option in Ghana's central defense.
  • CD
    says: 5 years ago
    My fellows ghanainas why panckin ghanais goin to the nest round with the first two games beatin u,s,a and germany and then deal with portugal later. is goin to happen.
  • SHAOLIN
    says: 5 years ago
    I agree that we have to support the team but I disagree that we have to support the coach no matter what. If AA makes an error in player selection ,we as Ghanaians have every right to point it out. Next time it will be in the best interest of the team not to repeat the same mistake.
  • SHAOLIN
    says: 5 years ago
    1.A center back has to have some speed. 2.A center back has to have the ability to win 50-50 balls. 3. Has to be good in the air. Essien doesn't have any of the above attributes at the moment so Essien at center back will turn out to be our worst nightmare.
  • jona
    says: 5 years ago
    I may pick Adomah over Accam if the game against the dream team was the base as a coach. Ghana Vrs Portugal 4-4-2 formation GK- Kwarasey LB- Afful CB- Akaminku CB- Mensah RB- Opare DM-Essien/Acquah LM- K. Asamoah/D Ayew RM- Atsu/Adomah CAM- Boateng/Muntari ST- Gyan CF- Warris Three substitutes for GH at the end of the match The Score line will read GHA 3 POR 1
  • selfmade
    says: 5 years ago
    Contrary to what they are saying about essien PACE AND TACKLES, essien was the man of the match against Zambia, Egypt all in Kumasi! When he came in the second half against Zambia, he injected PACE into ghanas game! Against Egypt in Kumasi, his PACE drove the Ghanaian team forward! With our match against Egypt in Cairo, the last play who was tackling GEDO before he score the second goal was ESSIEN!
  • SHAOLIN
    says: 5 years ago
    Essien was not a good jumper in the premier league.One of the knocks against him during his tenure in Chelsea was that he wasn't good in the air.
  • BOISON
    says: 5 years ago
    i prefer Essien at de central defense, like the writer rightly said. cos we need more experience personnel at de central defense 1.Adams kwarasey 2.Opare 3.Afful 4. Boye 5.Essien 6.Rabiu 7.Dede 8. Muntari 9.Gyan 10, Prince 11. Kojo Asamoah
  • CAP'N PLANET
    says: 5 years ago
    WITH OUR POROUS DEFENSE,WE WILL SIT BACK,SOAK THE PRESSURE THEN PLAY ON A SWIFT COUNTER.HENCE, WE WILL OPT FOR THE 4-5-1 IN DEFENSE MODE THEN A SWIFT 4-3-3 IN ATTACK MODE.WHY DO I SAY THIS?THE LATE INCLUSION OF SAM ARDAY ON THE BENCH MEANS THIS IS THE MODULAR A.A. HAS IN MIND.THAT WAY WE PROTECT OUR DEFENSE BY USING THE MIDFIELDS AS SHIELDS. 1.KWARASEY 2.AKAMINKO 3.SCHLUPP 4.BOYE 5.J.MENSAH 6.M.ESSIEN 7.AYEW 8.K.P.BOATENG 9.GYAN 10.MUNTARI 11.K.ASAMOAH .