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Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Friday, 24 June 2005 15:25 UK

Ghana's new hero

By Michael Oti Adjei
BBC Sport, Accra

Michael Essien in action for Ghana
Michael Essien is fast becoming Ghana's newest football hero

Hardly a day passes by without Michael Essien being mentioned in the newspapers or on the radio in Ghana or indeed in Europe.

All the media attention means that Essien, who helped Lyon win the French title this year, is fast developing into the latest Ghanaian football star.

This is great news for a country that has been desperate for a new football idol since the retirements of three-time African Player of the Year Abedi Pele and former Leeds star Tony Yeboah.

When the Black Stars returned to Accra, after their 2-0 win over South Africa in their last 2006 World Cup qualifier, Essien was the most sought-after player.

The press and the public all wanted a piece of him, whether it was to take a photograph, shake his hand or sign an autograph.

Those who know him well say he is worthy of all the attention and praise he is getting.

DOB: 08/12/1982
Previous Clubs: Liberty Professionals (Ghana), SC Bastia (France) and Lyon (France)
Honours: French League 2003/4 and 2004/5, Gold medal 1999 African Under-17 Championship, Bronze medal 1999 World Under-17 Championship, Silver medal 2001 World Youth Championship

Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, the former Ghana coach, gave Essien his international breakthrough at under-17 level and says he is living up to the potential he showed as a youngster.

"Off the field, he is like a baby, playful and gentle but on the field, he fears no one and does his job with seriousness and maturity," he told BBC Sport.

"Essien has developed physically since his days as an under-17 player, which suggests to me that he has the capacity to grow as a footballer and get better."

In one of his rare interviews with local journalists, Essien said: "I want to win the Uefa Champions League and play at the World Cup with Ghana.

"I know there is a lot of attention on me, which is normal in football. But I don't want to lose my head. I just want to improve."

Essien was more evasive on the one question that everyone wants an answer to - Will he be leaving Lyon to join English Champions Chelsea?

"I want to leave all that to my manager and concentrate on my football."

Abedi Pele, Ghana's most successful player in Europe, thinks the time is ripe for Essien to seek a new challenge.

"He has two league titles, has been voted player of the year [in France] and has convinced many people there that he is a good player. He must now move on to other challenges," Pele said.

Whatever the future holds Pele thinks Essien's biggest challenges are far ahead.

"Now he must convince not just Ghanaians but the watching world that he is as good as the hype suggests.

"That's the most difficult part of a footballer's life," Pele warned.

see also
Essien out of Ghana team
03 Jun 05 |  African
Essien wins French award
23 May 05 |  African

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