“It is tedious to lose one of the best players in Europe but he has not left yet,” said Jean-Michel Aulus, the Lyon president. “We can still find a compromise so that he only leaves next year. Chelsea will have to show themselves to be very persuasive for us to let him leave. Manchester United want him just as much.”
It was the summer 2005 and Aulus was talking about Michael Essien. United have just finished third in the league, eighteen points behind Chelsea. Our points total that season would have been enough to win us the league back in 1997, but things were different now. We were out of our depth where Chelsea were concerned. They thrashed us at Old Trafford on the home game of the season, with the one goal put away from Ruud van Nistelrooy a poor consolation for the disappointment of seeing what our team had become.
Keane wasn’t getting any younger and his influence over the team was diminishing. He was no longer able to win us games single handedly. Kleberson, Fletcher and Djemba-Djemba were not a fraction of the player Roy Keane was, and the panic started to set in. Who can we realistically tempt to join us to replace Keane? We’d finished third and lost out on the FA Cup to Arsenal, after playing them off to park only for the whole game, just to lose out on penalties. The Glazers had just bought us and the worry over whether there was any money to spend was prevalent.
Michael Essien would have been a perfect replacement, however with Chelsea also interested, it looked as though we weren’t going to get our way. The blues forked out £24.5 million for the gritty midfielder and it was clear United would have lost out on a bidding war, if they’d chose to enter it. A few months later, Roy Keane left.
Our situation is somewhat improved now, with us boasting the midfield talents of Hargreaves, Anderson and Carrick in midfield instead of Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and the like. The situation has changed at Chelsea as well, with the impressive central midfielders Lampard, Makelele, Essien, Ballack and Mikel not able to carry the weakened defence and clueless manager.
The player that could have replaced Roy Keane back in 2005 has today spoken out announcing he had a trial with us when he was a teenager, and that Keano is his hero. “I had always dreamed of playing in Europe and, as a boy, my team were Manchester United. When they offered me a one-week trial I just couldn’t believe it, I was so happy,” said Essien. “I remember being there and thinking ‘Wow, this is the biggest club in the world’. My biggest hero was Roy Keane. I just loved the way he used to play, his attitude and commitment. I still try to play like him now and maybe people compare us as I play a similar holding role in midfield as he used to. At the end of the trial, the club said they really liked me and wanted to sign me. But they could not sort out a work permit and the move never happened.”
Who would you prefer? Hargreaves or Essien?