First, however, came the unveiling. The Ghanaian international emerged, blinking into the photographers' flashlights, at Chelsea's Cobham HQ after passing a medical and agreeing personal terms for his £26m move. This first performance was low-key with Essien seeming overwhelmed by the attention. Fortunately Jose Mourinho was by his side to provide the sound-bites claiming that in Essien he had secured the final piece of the game's costliest jigsaw.
"He is dynamic, strong and can help in defensive and offensive terms. Now we are very complete with him," said Mourinho of his new purchase. The Chelsea manager added: "I wanted him because I was looking for a player who would finish this squad which is now strong in every department with a lot of space for improvement because everyone is very young. I believe he is the best in his position but he can play all across midfield.
"It will be very easy for him to adapt. He speaks English as his mother tongue, he speaks French and we have French players at Chelsea. He is African and has an empathy with our African players. He will play in the same position as he did at Lyon. Chelsea have the same system as Lyon. All he has to do is change the shirt and the faces around him because his role is the same."
The soft-spoken Essien said: "I'm very happy. I'm in love with the Premiership. I wanted to play here." Pressed, he admitted that he was once a Manchester United supporter but added: "Things have changed and now I'm here. When someone asked me which team I would like to play for I said, 'I want to play for one of the big clubs and I'd love to play for Man Utd'. But now I'm pleased to be with Chelsea."
Essien is unlikely to figure in tomorrow's match against Arsenal as there is still some paperwork to be completed and he is short of match fitness after refusing to play for Lyon this season. He could be involved against West Bromwich Albion in midweek but his first outing is more likely to be at Tottenham on Saturday. Then comes the battle to win a place. As £19m Ricardo Carvalho has discovered, at Chelsea a large fee does not guarantee a start.
"There are a lot of good players here at Chelsea," said Essien, who has agreed a five-year deal and has been granted his work permit. "There is great competition and I'm ready to fight for my place. It's up to me to show what I'm made of."
Essien is expected to partner Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele in midfield, which is bad news for Eidur Gudjohnsen, Joe Cole and Tiago.
"He will fight for his place," said Mourinho. "He is the kind of player we want. He has a lot of ambition. He has won a lot but only in the French league. This is a new reality for him."
Mourinho, whose first bid, in May, was just £10m, added: "I know there are questions about the money we spent on him but that is the reality of modern football. Big teams want to buy big players and those clubs want to keep their players and they demand a lot of money. They make it hard and difficult to negotiate."
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas certainly drove a hard bargain. Two seasons ago, Lyon paid Bastia £5m for Essien. Since then he has won two Ligue 1 titles and been voted player of the year in France by his peers but he has never played in a World Cup or reached the last four of the Champions' League.
"The size of fee doesn't matter," insisted Essien but it does, it raises expectations. Only two players have cost English clubs more, Rio Ferdinand and Juan Sebastian Veron (Wayne Rooney's fee may reach £27m, but it has not done so yet). Given his lengthy suspension, and recent contract dispute, the jury remains out on Ferdinand but on Veron the verdict was clear. The Argentinian flopped, first at Manchester United, who lost £13m on him, then Chelsea who also lost a fortune.
"It will not be a problem to adapt," said Essien, who succeeds new team-mate Didier Drogba as Africa's most expensive footballer. "I know the language and have friends here so it will be easy." When asked to compare himself with Patrick Vieira and Steven Gerrard he insisted: "Every one has his own style of play."
Essien's own style will soon be apparent but it is on his substance he will be judged.Reuse content