Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari may well be set to join him.
These two, behind Essien in years and ahead of him in residual dynamism, could certainly still do a job in the Premier League, where there has been interest in their services. Similarly, for Boateng at least, there has been interest from the Turkish Super Lig. With a handful of Ghanaians already there, it could emerge as an appealing option.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both men move to the States this summer. MLS is, after all, a bright new world these days, and both men would surely relish the stage and the glamour of playing out some of their golden years Stateside.
If they do leave, they will look back on their careers in Europe with both pride and regret. Muntari, of course, is a Champions League winner—that honour complemented by domestic titles in Italy and an FA Cup victory with Portsmouth.
Boateng, of course, played 26 times as Milan won the Serie A crown in 2011.
The trio—along with Stephen Appiah—were influential figures as Ghana re-established themselves among Africa’s top tier.
Their international careers pivoted around 2010, when only the injury to Essien robbed the Black Stars of the opportunity to field all four in what would have been something of a dream—if a narrow—quartet.
More so than any other league, Serie A’s giants enjoy cyclical spells of dominance. As Muntari, Essien and Boateng joined Milan during relative downtime for the Rossoneri, so StepApp represented Juve during a barren two-year trough for the club.
As with Essien, injury compromised, and ultimately curtailed, Appiah’s career. He gave us magical moments, and shone in 2010, when the fitness demons stayed away for a month or two, but ultimately, his career cannot be considered without the melancholy shadow of regret.
Can the same be said for the other members of this celebrated quartet?
Certainly, with regards to Essien, injury robbed us of his peak years. Only once since the 07-08 season has the midfielder managed more than 20 league outings for any one club—on five occasions since then, he has managed fewer than 15 league appearances.
Similarly, his contributions for Ghana at critical international tournaments such as the 2014 World Cup have been compromised by fitness troubles or injury concerns.
Perhaps only at the 2008 Afcon did Essien truly realise his potential in a continental context.
For Muntari, too, there have been a few too many compromised campaigns.
Following the Champions League triumph in 2010, when his stock was at its highest, he fell out with figures at Inter and struggled with injury. On only one occasion since then—the 13-14 season with Milan—has he managed more than 15 league appearances for any one side in a campaign.
A combination of acrimony, fall-outs and pseudo-retirements mean that it’s hard to argue that either Boateng or Muntari have realised their potential at international level with the Black Stars.
Indeed, if you’d have told me, at the end of the 2010 World Cup—when Appiah was only 29 remember—that this was as good as it would ever get for the quartet, I would never have believed you.
The hopes and aspirations of 2010 have left a muddled and mixed trail of broken glass behind them, but there isn’t too much that has glittered quite as it might have done.
Sadly, despite their scattered successes, these four may well be left dwelling on those footfalls that echo in the memory, those passages they did not take, the doors they never opened, the rose gardens they never explored…
Of course, Kwadwo Asamoah—a member of the Afcon runners-up side in 2010, as well as the bronze-medal winners four years beforehand—is a worthy successor to these four, even if his recent impact for the national side has come on the left rather than in the middle of the park.
Injury too, threatens to billow over that particular success story.
But what of the others?
Anthony Annan, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Mohammed Rabiu were supposed to have given strength, stability and control to the Ghana midfield beyond the fading influence of Essien and Appiah, but none have proven to be resounding successes.
It was telling that Avram Grant dropped both of the last two from his starting XI during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, while the former has almost dropped off the radar completely.
Wakaso Mubarak’s fine showings in Equatorial Guinea cannot mask his dismal campaign at Celtic.
Instead, the main optimism for a glittering post-quartet future might come in the form of Afriyie Acquah—recently ordained by Yaya Toure as the player’s heir at Manchester City—and Godfred Donsah, a player also linked with the Etihad Stadium.
The influence of the golden four is finally coming to an end, and all may have left Europe’s major narratives by the end of the summer.
They leave behind them immense optimism and aching regret. It remains to be seen if things will ever be that good again.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”
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