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Every now and then (all the time, actually) I read a footballer's age and it more than raises an eyebrow. John Eustace is still only 33? Shaun Maloney is the wrong side of 30? Pablo Zabaleta is only 28? No matter how deeply you immerse yourself in the game, football always retains that wonderful ability to surprise.
Watching Norwich's midfield overpower Chelsea during the second half on Sunday afternoon, before conceding two late goals stemming from defensive lapses, another surprise hit me. Michael Essien, for so long the darling of Chelsea's defensive midfield, is still only 30 years old.
The Ghanaian was named on the bench for the game at Carrow Road, but there is nothing particularly new in that. Left out of the club's Champions League squad over doubts over his ability to play two games in a week, Essien has been named as part of Chelsea's squad for six of the club's seven Premier League games. He is yet to see a single minute of Premier League action. Always considered, never picked.
My initial surprise stemmed from the fact that I had envisaged Essien to be in the twilight of his professional career, a fine servant for Lyon, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Ghana who was winding down into retirement. At 30, such thoughts are surely completely premature? In fact, Essien is younger than four of Chelsea's starting XI, Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard.
There are clearly concerns over the midfielder's fitness, but let it not be assumed that he cannot perform at the top level anymore. On loan from Chelsea and to Mourinho, the midfielder played a part in 34 games for Real Madrid last season, and actually started half of the club's matches in La Liga. Furthermore, he played 90 minutes in Los Blancos' 2-0 semi-final second leg victory over Dortmund in the Champions League in April. Big occasions on the biggest stages, it seems, are not a distant memory.
Furthermore, Essien is a player that enjoys a relationship with Mourinho as close as any other between player/manager that I can remember. Speaking in Kuala Lumpur before a pre-season fixture, the Portuguese introduced Essien to the local press as "my son", continuing that Essien was "a great man, he is loyal to me, he is loyal to Chelsea, he was loyal to Madrid. He is a very good player and I see him with special motivation". That's quite the compliment, and Essien has frequently returned the favour by calling Mourinho his 'Daddy'. It's all a bit weird, actually.
With that in mind, it seems bizarre that Essien has not been used so far this season. With Jon Obi Mikel seemingly pushed to the sidelines, and frankly lucky to still be a part of the first-team set-up at Stamford Bridge after four seasons of underperformance, Chelsea's central holding midfield positions are currently held down by Ramires and Frank Lampard. Both would almost certainly prefer to act as box-to-box players, but the licence to roam afforded to the three attacking players behind a single striker dictates that the '2' in the 4-2-3-1 formation are expected to protect, particularly with the evident adventure demonstrated by Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic in the full-back positions.
Both Lampard and Ramires have performed admirably this season for the large part, but Mourinho will surely be uneasy at the way Robert Snodgrass, Anthony Pilkington and (briefly) Nathan Redmond were afforded the space to pen back his side. FC Basel, Everton and Spurs have all been able to do the same at various points this season so far, and a more clinical side than Chris Hughton's Norwich may have made their visitors pay. Amidst it all, Essien was not brought on, despite it seeming vital for Chelsea to get a foothold in midfield, a calming head to offer much-needed solidity. If not then, then when?
After knee injuries, Essien is clearly not the player of five years ago, but surely we are a significant injury from seeing one of the best defensive midfielders in Premier League history return to the fore, and a reuniting of 'Daddy' and 'Son'. At 30, it would be a shame if such a stellar career was allowed to fade away.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter
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