Midfield player Michael Essien says he’s committed to Ghana’s national team program even though he has asked to be excused from next year’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
At the moment, Essien – who is on a season-long loan at Real Madrid from Chelsea – made it clear his priority is to secure a long-term club future. He told Ghanaian coach, Kwesi Appiah, he needs more time to settle in fully at Madrid before returning to international soccer.
“It’s a situation I understand,” said Appiah, who was a senior national team member for five years. “He has made it clear to me he is still committed to playing for Ghana, but he wants to sort out his club issues after moving from Chelsea to Real Madrid on loan. He is playing regularly now for Madrid and needs time to establish himself.”
Appiah, who coached the national Under-23 team last year, said Essien has not committed to a definite date for his return, but he has indicated he will be available for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, which resume for the Black Stars in March next year with a game against Sudan.
Essien’s presence in the Real Madrid team in recent weeks has led to increased calls for his return to international soccer.
But Appiah says given the midfielder’s history with injuries, Ghanaian soccer fans must respect Essien’s wishes, even if that means he will not be part of the squad for next year’s tournament in South Africa.
“He has suffered two major injuries playing for Ghana, but at no point has he said he does not want to play again,” said Appiah. “In moments like this, it’s important that we respect what the players want and help them through their difficult times.”
Essien was a member of Ghana’s team that reached the country’s first World Cup in 2006 and the semi-finals of the Nations Cup two years later on home soil. However, he has not played for the national team since a June 2011 Africa Nations Cup qualifier against Congo in Kumasi.
Ghana kicks off its 2013 Nations Cup campaign against the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 20.
Meanwhile, South Africa will meet Norway in a friendly international in Cape Town on January 8. The game comes 11 days before South Africa begins its Africa Cup of Nations campaign.
South African coach, Gordon Igesund, says he’s looking forward to the contest.
“It affords me an opportunity to fine tune my final combination that will play in the tournament, so this will be a good test for us and will help us gauge our readiness” he said.
South Africa defeated Norway 2-1 three years ago.