Chelsea face an anxious wait to learn the extent of a knee injury to Michael Essien amid fears that he could be out for the rest of the season.
The Ghana midfielder is understood to be distraught after he was ruled out of the Africa Cup of Nations yesterday with medial knee ligament damage and has privately expressed fears he may miss the 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 Annan, 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 out the player for at least a month, but the lay-off could be much longer. An initial scan at a Luanda hospital revealed torn medial collateral ligament and damage to the meniscus in Essien's left knee, which Chelsea will seek to verify on Thursday.
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 qualifier 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.
Ancelotti has 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 Jack Rodwell for some time, but the England U21 international is out with a hamstring injury and Everton insist that he is not for sale. Jerko Leko, a Croatia player at Monaco, has also impressed Ancelotti.
© The Times, London