'I'm not a dirty player, I need time to adapt,' says Essien

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The Independent Football

The Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien has attempted to defend his reputation which has been tarnished following a string of ugly tackles recently.

Essien, who signed from Lyon this summer for £24.4m, preferred to compare himself to the combative former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira and claimed that he needed time to adapt to English football. "I have never gone out with the intention of hurting anyone in a tackle," the 23-year-old Ghana international said yesterday. "I am not a dirty player."

Essien has been criticised for tackles on Bolton's Tal Ben Haim, Dietmar Hamann and Arsenal's Lauren of late but escaped with bookings for the former and the latter and was only given a two-match Champions' League ban by Uefa after replays were viewed of the challenge on the Liverpool man.

"I have paid for a mistake on Dietmar Hamann with a suspension," Essien added. "That is sufficient punishment for someone like me who only ever wants to play football. Playing means everything to me. I phoned Dietmar personally to apologise to him. I assured him it was an accident and there was no malicious intent on my part. I believe he accepted this graciously and, as far as I am concerned, the incident is behind me.

"On Sunday the referee booked me for the challenge on Lauren. The midfield, especially in English football, is a physical and competitive place. I will always compete fairly but never with malice. Like others before me, such as Patrick Vieira, I need time to adapt to English football."

Frank Lampard was eager to defend his team-mate regarding the Lauren tackle saying he had watched it on video. "Firstly, Michael Essien was not looking in the direction of the player, and secondly he did not make contact with the player's face which was the impression you got afterwards... It's unfortunate that the players then surrounded him attempting to make a bigger deal of it than what it was.

"He has been banned in Europe, fair enough and he has taken that ban, but on Sunday I think he was treated a bit badly."

On the subject of the League title Lampard added: "It's not over and we understand there is a long way to go. If we can get through Christmas, the next four games, with four victories we will be in an even stronger position than we are in now.

"If we slip up now then everything is open again, so it's more crucial for us."