A couple of weeks ago, we heard Michael Essien had politely declined the advances of a couple of heavyweight Greek clubs because he was "waiting for a call from the New York Red Bulls." It seemed an improbable dream, and Essien would appear to agree: because he switched off his phone and hopped a plane to Greece.
Just touched down in Athens and the love from the Panathenikos fans was incredible.#pao— Michael Essien (@MichaelEssien) June 1, 2015
Word is the former Chelsea man, and soon to be former-Serie A footballer, is in Athens to sign for Panathinaikos F.C., one of the powerhouse Greek clubs the rumor mill told us he'd rejected in favor of the call from RBNY that probably wasn't ever going to arrive.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Ghanaian international's past, he began his career in Europe with French club Bastia before making his way to Olympique Lyonnais in 2003. He won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles with Lyon. Then, in 2005, Essien took another major stride in his career: he moved to Chelsea in the English Premiership for a reported $37.1 million. He made over 250 competitive appearances for the Blues, won two Premiership titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup, a Community Shield, and the 20011-12 Champions League.
The European club title came at a point when Essien's role at Chelsea was diminishing. He achieved the rare feat of stepping down to Real Madrid, a loan move to a club more inclined to make use of his talent than his employer.
But the move to Spain was symptomatic of a need to move on from the Blues, and he signed for Italian superclub AC Milan in January 2014. Being a Milan fan, I can honestly say that Essien's talents seemed to be overlooked by the Serie A side: he only made a handful appearances and was somewhat overshadowed by the 13 other midfielders signed to the Rossoneri. With competition such as Marco Van Ginkel, Andrea Poli, Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel De Jong, and Giacomo Bonaventura, players like Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari have not settled in the team and were required to look for new clubs outside Serie A.
And that new club for Michael Essien looks like it will be Panathinaikos. Consistently one of the top clubs in Greece, it is not only a highly respected institution but a worthwhile team for many of the world's talented footballers. With his talents not being fully used at the moment, this in my opinion is a brilliant transfer for Essien. Essien is a midfielder who deserves to be playing a full 90 minutes each time he steps out onto the pitch and whilst at AC Milan, that has not been the case.
It is with that said, that the supporters of Gate 13 welcome a world class player in Essien. Michael Essien will accompany Portuguese midfielder and captain of Panathinaikos, Zeca, as well as a midfield consisting of Danijel Pranjic, Sotiris Ninis, and Charalampos Mavria. Besides the midfield, the Greek club have a successful pair of strikers in Marcus Berg and Nikolaos Karelis.
Once confirmed, this move will decisively kill off the rumors linking Essien to MLS and RBNY. It also eliminates what had been an unlikely but persistent connection between the New York Red Bulls and the Olympique Lyonnais squads that dominated French football in the first decade of this century.
Red Bull's head of global football, Gerard Houllier, managed Lyon from 2005 to 2007, picking up two league titles along the way. During that time, he coached Juninho Pernambucano, who had a short and generally unhappy spell with RBNY in 2013. Houllier didn't cross paths with Peguy Luyindula, who left Lyon in 2004, but the recently-retired Frenchman won three league titles playing alongside Juninho and - for one season - Michael Essien.
There aren't many players left in the game who were part of Lyon's all-conquering squads of 2001 to 2008, when the club won Ligue 1 seven times in a row. And we don't know for sure whether there was ever any real truth in the rumor connecting Essien to RBNY. But it's amusing to think the Gerard Houllier's work for Papa Red Bull consistently leads him back to his contribution to one of the most extraordinary periods of sustained success by a single club in the history of French football.
Essien, Juninho and Luyindula are three of the bigger names to be associated with Lyon during that incredible run in Ligue 1, and each has - more or less - been associated and subsequently disassociated with RBNY.
We here at Once a Metro wish Michael Essien every success in Greece. And we look forward to finding out who else from Lyon's 2001-2008 era might still be available and close enough to Houllier to be afforded the honor of at least a persistent rumor linking them to the New York Red Bulls.