The coach and the player already knew each other from their time together at Chelsea, something which Essien accepts made it easier for him to sign for Real Madrid: “It is no secret that José Mourinho has been a big influence on my career since he took me to England. He was kind enough to accompany me on a fundraising trip to Ghana when we were in Chelsea. So when he showed an interest in signing me for Real Madrid, I had no doubts about it at all. Of course I had to come to an agreement with Chelsea first, but once they agreed, everything started to move. One minute I was getting ready to play the Supercup in Monaco; the next I was packing my bags to move to Madrid. It was crazy, but that is what football is like. It looked like I was going to spend another season in Chelsea after a good preseason, but here I am, in Madrid. I never dreamt this would happen when I went back to work with Chelsea in July, but football is full of surprises and this is definitely one of them”.
Madrid’s new midfielder has come here after winning the Champions league with his old club, and is well aware that winning number ten is one his new club’s aims for this season: “Yes, I know, and I hope I can help Madrid to achieve this success. Apart from this achievement for the club and the city it would be a great personal achievement for me to win two consecutive Champions Leagues after winning it last year, so I will do my best to try to be part of this achievement”.
Essien had already competed in the Premier League with some of his team mates such as Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Modric, and he emphasised how easy it has been for him to settle in thanks to the rest of the squad: “Yes, I knew several of my team mates before coming here. Apart from those names, the other day Casillas reminded me that we had played against each other in the Meridian Cup in South Africa when we were 16 or 17. And I remember playing against Kaká in the Under-20 World Cup in Argentina. They have all been very supportive, even the team mates I did not know at all. We are a team in every sense of the word and training is always fun”.
“There are no easy matches at this level in Spain or in England. Every match I have played in or seen from the bench in Spain is one that we knew would be tough. I had not played regularly before signing for Real Madrid so I needed more games to get my rhythm and I am managing that. As long as I carry on training hard everything will be fine”, he said about his adaptation to the team’s style and to the competition in Spain.
The city has also pleasantly surprised Essien who has already discovered the affection of the Real Madrid family. “I have only been here for six weeks but I have been impressed by how affectionate and welcoming people are in Madrid and by the city in general. From the president and the coach, to the other players, the training staff and the fans, everyone has been friendly and welcoming. In Ghana we are proud of our hospitality, and Madrid is no different. It is great how they make you feel the same way here”, he said.
To conclude Essien spoke about his Foundation and the possibility of another charity match with stars from around the world playing African stars in Ghana: “We are looking into it and we will make a decision at the end of November. The Peace Match two years ago was a great success and we would like to do it again so we can raise more money for charitable work in Ghana. Some of the players who took part in April 2011 have already said that they would like to do it again, so we are working on it to make it reality. Also, the Foundation’s other projects are still running. We have taken on another 10 people in our training workshops and we are working on building a library with the money raised by the watch with my name on it”.