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Remembering Michael Essien’s finest hour at Real Madrid



Former Black Stars midfielder, Michael Essien

Based in the northern Spanish city of the same name, Real Zaragoza was founded in 1932 and is one of LaLiga’s most historic clubs, playing week in, week out at the 33,000-capacity La Romareda stadium – a ground famous for boosting Europe’s deepest goal nets (four metres)!

Though now in LaLiga SmartBank, the club has spent much of its history in the top tier, LaLiga Santander, winning the Copa del Rey six times and the 1994–95 Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup, amongst other trophies.

Their rivals back in the day, Real Madrid, were no stranger to winning trophies themselves, having picked up over 90 titles since their foundation back in 1902.

Flash back to November 2012, and Real Madrid host Real Zaragoza, as the reigning LaLiga champions having won their 32nd league title the season before.

Just 10 games into the season, Barcelona had raced into a narrow lead at the top of the table and the Madridistas were hopeful of picking up a good result to peg back their eternal rivals.

Coming into the match, Zaragoza knew that they were in for a tough afternoon; Real Madrid dominated the first half, and while the visitors picked up in the second half they were unable to make a breakthrough in front of goal.

Jose Mourinho’s side notched four great goals, including one from Ghana’s very own star Michael Essien.

In a one-sided affair, the hosts took the lead in the 22nd minute when a dangerous Luka Modric cross was parried by keeper Roberto into the path of Gonzalo Higuain, who made no mistake from close range.

First blood to the hosts.

Los Blancos extended their lead two minutes later when Cristiano Ronaldo went on one of his famous runs, finding a perfect pass to Angel di Maria who made it 2-0.

The closest the visitors got to getting on the scoresheet was when Jose Mari’s shot beat Iker Casillas, only to rattle off the crossbar.

Up the other end, Cristiano was next to hit the crossbar, when his thunderous strike from a freekick went flashing past Roberto, who recovered to fist the ball to safety.

Come the second half, it was Essien’s turn to get onto the scoresheet.

Following some slick build-up play, Karim Benzema picked out the Ghanaian in the box with a deft lob. Essien controlled the ball and calmly slotted past Roberto to make it 3-0 late on.

The fourth and final goal of the game came just three minutes later in stoppage time: Essien found Modric, who struck the ball sweetly to find the back of the net from just outside the box.

Despite their crushing win at the Bernabeu that day in November, Barcelona ended the season 15 points ahead of Real Madrid on top of the LaLiga standings, with an impressive 75 goal difference. The visitors on the other hand could not avoid relegation, finishing in 20th position and dropping down into LaLiga SmartBank.

One bright spark from Real Madrid’s season, however, was the form of Essien.

The Ghanaian joined Real Madrid in 2012, arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu on loan from Chelsea and reuniting with former coach Jose Mourinho, who playfully referred to him as his ‘son.’

It was under Mourinho that Essien had played the best football of his career in the mid-to late-00s. Together again in LaLiga, the ‘Bison’ – so nicknamed for his boldness and fearless play in midfield – made 35 appearances for Real Madrid and scored twice, dedicating both goals to his beloved coach.

Essien was capped over 50 times for the Black Stars, cementing his reputation as one of the greatest African midfielders of all time, and is now on the coaching staff at Danish side FC Nordsjælland.