Ghana midfielder, Michael Essien grants www.ghanafa.org, the Ghana Football Associationís official website, an exclusive interview. The player talks about Ghanaís chances of winning the African Cup of Nations, his absence from the competition the last time and the thorny issue over the timing of the tournament. The Black Stars and Chelsea player spoke to Nana Obiri Yeboah and Michael Boateng.
Ghanafa.org: Ghana will be hosting the 2008 Cup of Nations on home soil which means the Black Stars will be enjoying much support; do you think the team will be under considerable pressure to deliver?
Essien: Yes. I think the pressure will be on but we will do our best to at least achieve something for the nation because they have been looking forward to it for so many years. Itís going to be tough but we will see what will happen in the end.
Ghanafa.org: You were in such fine form when you missed out of the last edition of the Cup of Nations, with time approaching, what is running through your mind as you prepare to be part of next yearís Cup of Nations?
Essien: The last time I missed out because of injury. This time round, I pray there wouldnít be any injuries so that I can represent my country. Iím looking forward to it and as a player Iím going to give my best for the team and the nation.
Ghanafa.org: Thereís been much talk in Europe, especially in the English Premiership about the timing of the African Cup of Nations. Your clubís coach, Avram Grant is also gotten into the debate that CAF needs to reschedule the Cup of Nations to June instead of the January-February calendar. What is your take on this issue? Itís been quite a thorny issue for everyone.
Essien: Well, itís been something really tough for the clubs. If CAF can change it, it will help us and help everybody. I think before they started the Cup of Nations, not so many African players played in Europe but now, I can say there are more players playing in Europe so if they can manage to change the time it will help us and the teams as well.
Ghanafa.org: Will players such as yourself from Africa and colleagues in the premiership like to make any proposals to CAF to have a re think about the schedule of the Cup of Nations.
Essien: I donít know but as I said if they can help to solve this problem it will be good for us. January-February is where the league is open. You have to leave and come and help your country. Itís good to play for your country but if they (CAF) can help to change that, it will be good for us (players).
Ghanafa.org: Well, it would still played. What do you think Ghanaís chances would be at the African Cup of Nations?
Essien: Well, we are hosting it and we have to do everything we can to win the trophy. I donít remember the last time we won so if we can win this time it would be a good thing for us.
Ghanafa.org: Michael, you missed out of the African player of the year award the last time. Do you fancy your chances of winning it in the coming year or the years ahead?
Essien: To be honest, I donít think about this award. All I want to do is to do my best for my country and my club. The African best player does not come to mind. I donít think about it. All that I want to do is to do my best.
Ghanafa.org: You are with one of the biggest clubs at the moment in Europe, thatís with Chelsea. Do you hope to make a career switch in the coming seasons from Chelsea and if you should leave, where would you like to go to?
Essien: I donít like to talk about my career, I am happy at Chelsea and we will see what will happen.
Ghanafa.org: Some Ghanaians criticized you over your absence at the last Cup of Nations. With the Cup of Nations coming up soon, do you have any message for them?
Essien: Well, I have no message. I will be here to represent my country. I pray that there will be no more injuries, the last time I missed out some people got me wrong. They said I do not want to play for my country. Thatís not true I committed myself when I was 17. Yes, I missed out because of injury and this time round I hope and pray to God there will be no more injuries so I can give my best to the country.