Former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien has revealed snubbing Liverpool in 2002 to remain in Ligue 1 because he thought a move to the Premier League was premature.
Essien disclosed former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier was keenly interested in him and invited him to Melwood – the club training centre where they had their discussion, but he was adamant on staying in France.
He rejected offers from PSG and Marseille in that period to spend his third year at Bastia where he helped them to a mid-table finish in the 2002-03 Ligue 1 season.
“I had a lot of offers. I was close to signing for Liverpool when Gerard Houllier was their coach,” Essien said in an Instagram Live chat.
”I even went to Melwood to meet the coach. We had a talk and I returned to France but the offers were still coming.
”PSG, Olympique Marseille et al, but I told Bastia I don’t want to move and they also didn’t want to sell me at that time because they wanted me to stay for another year which was fine with me because I also didn’t want to leave the club so I stayed for another season, that’s my third year with the club.
”Olympique Lyon joined the three aforementioned clubs to enquire about me but I thought it was too early to move to England.”
Essien joined Lyon for a reported €7.8 million in the summer of 2003, and he won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles and two Trophee des Champions during his two-year stay at the club.
The 37-year-old would later move to England in August 2005 to join Chelsea but Houllier who wanted him at Liverpool three years before, was now in Lyon as head coach.
He was only able to play for French manager during their pre-season tour in South Korea before he left the team.
“Moving to Chelsea was not difficult but in my third year at Lyon we had Gerard Houllier as the coach who wanted to sign me few years before when he was at Liverpool, and this man was a big fan of me, he loved me, he liked how I played. So when he came to Lyon he was happy,” he said.
“We had a meeting and he expressed how happy he was to have the chance to work with me and then we went to South Korea for pre-season, and then Chelsea came in strong with an offer. Obviously the president [Michel Aulas] was playing his transfer game but this man [Houllier] will come and talk to me, saying he knows my love for the Premiership but at the same time he was a thorn between me going to England and staying at Lyon to work with him.
“I wanted to go to England. I remember our first pre-season game, we played against a Mexican side and after the game, I was so angry. I was angry because I was happy with how the president was handling the transfer at the time so I was angry that I took it into the game. I lost my head and went in hard for a tackle and I was sent off.
“I always train with a smile on my face but I became so angry to the extent that I wasn’t talking to anyone, I was just getting on with whoever came my way in training but the coach was very good with me. He will be one of my best coaches I’ve had in my career even though I worked with him for a short time. He was always talking to me.”
Essien currently plies his trade in Azerbaijan with Sabail where he has played 10 league games this season before football activities were suspended due to coronavirus in March.