Essien 'not a naughty guy', but a winner, says Drogba

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The Independent Football

There are few at Chelsea better qualified to discuss the pressure of arriving at the world's richest club with a king-sized transfer fee to live up to, and yesterday Didier Drogba became the latest player to defend the embattled Michael Essien.

The Chelsea midfielder may stand accused of an aggressive streak that has earned him a two-match ban from Uefa and the condemnation of the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, but he was not, Drogba said, "a naughty guy". Naughty he may not be, but Essien's tackling has become the only blemish on Chelsea's staggering opening to their Premiership title defence, which has put them in sight of the biggest Premiership half-way lead since Newcastle went 10 points clear at Christmas 1995.

Drogba, 27, said that Essien, who has been a revelation in midfield despite his recent notoriety, was still learning how to adapt to football in England and would be an even better player one year from now.

The tackle on Dietmar Hamann that caused so much controversy in the Champions' League against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge earned Essien a two-match ban. He also courted controversy by elbowing Arsenal's Lauren on Sunday. In response, Chelsea have come to his defence with even the usually taciturn Claude Makelele co-opted into talking in support of his team-mate.

"Michael is trying to give his best for Chelsea and what happened took place because he wants to win but he doesn't want to hurt anyone," Drogba said. "I don't have to give him advice. He knows what he can and can't do. Sometimes you have a difficult period. He just needs to adapt to the way we play here. He's only been here four months.

"My first season was very difficult. He is playing but not 100 per cent. You haven't seen the best of Michael Essien. For me, I know that I had one difficult year because of the injuries and moving country. Some people take two years, four years or some people just take one year to settle. I'm very proud because I'm at one of the best teams in Europe and I keep playing.

"Essien is a player to give strength to the team. When you see him in training or during some games, you know you can't lose because he is there." Drogba, whose side play Fulham on Monday, reflected on "the three best years of my life" which has seen him rise from the substitutes' bench at the Second Division French side Guingamp to being voted for by Zinedine Zidane in the Fifa World Player of the Year poll. He and Essien will miss up to four Premiership matches when they go to Egypt to represent the Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively at the African Nations' Cup at the end of next month at what could prove a crucial stage of the season for Chelsea.

Drogba said: "It is a frustration because I enjoy playing big games, and maybe I will miss big games for Chelsea but at the same time, I will play big games for the national team. You have to be careful with Manchester United and Liverpool. But we don't really look at other teams, we are only focused on winning because we want to keep our title."