Chelsea fear Essien out for rest of season
CHELSEA face an anxious wait to learn the extent of a knee injury to Michael Essien amid fears he could be out for the rest of the season.
The Ghana midfield player is understood to be distraught after he was ruled out of the African Cup of Nations yesterday with medial knee ligament damage and he has privately expressed fears that he may miss this summer's World Cup.
Essien will begin his return journey from Angola today, but because of the difficulty of securing a flight to London via Johannesburg, he is not expected back at Chelsea's training ground until Thursday at the earliest. He will then have scans to ascertain the extent of the problem and Carlo Ancelotti, his manager, may have to wait until Friday for the results.
Essien suffered the injury in a non-contact situation during a training session on Sunday. "Michael was turning to make a pass when he just went down," said Anthony Annon, his Ghana team-mate. "There was no contact from any other player, but those around him say they heard a click, and then the physios rushed over."
The Ghana team doctor ruled the player out for at least a month, but the lay-off could be much longer. An initial scan revealed torn medial collateral ligament and damage to the meniscus in Essien's left knee, which Chelsea will seek to verify.
The injury is all the more worrying because Essien had reconstructive surgery on the same knee after a similar injury in September 2008. On that occasion he landed awkwardly after heading the ball during a World Cup qualifying tie against Libya and was out for six months with a ruptured anterior cruciate knee ligament.
Chelsea's medical team have reassured Ancelotti that the 27-year-old does not have an inherent weakness in his knees and has simply been extremely unlucky. However, a lengthy absence for Essien would be a blow for Ancelotti, and may lead him to alter plans to stay inactive during this month's transfer window.
Essien has not played for Chelsea since tearing a hamstring at the start of December and he travelled to Angola short of fitness, but was expected feature in an important run of fixtures next month. Chelsea have Premier League home matches against Arsenal and Manchester City in February as well as the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Inter Milan.
Essien only returned to full training at Chelsea on January 6 after his hamstring injury and his limited participation at the African Cup of Nations may lead some to question why the club agreed to release him in the first place.
He was not deemed fit enough to start in Ghana's 3-1 defeat by Ivory Coast in Cabinda last Friday and was taken off on a stretcher at one stage during the second half after being introduced as a substitute at half-time.
Losing Essien would leave Ancelotti short of defensive midfield players. Ancelotti has previously explored the possibility of signing Gennaro Gattuso from AC Milan, but the Italy midfield player signed a contract extension at the San Siro last month that would appear to preclude his departure.
Chelsea have been monitoring the performances of Jack Rodwell for some time, but he is out with a hamstring injury and Everton insist that he is not for sale in any case. Monaco's Croatian Jerko Leko has also impressed Ancelotti and would provide better value as a short-term replacement for Essien. (© The Times, London)