MICHAEL ESSIEN

Born: Dec. 3, 1982, in Accra, Ghana

Position: Midfielder

Nickname: The Bison

Clubs played for: Essien's performance for Ghana at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup first alerted European scouts to his considerable talent. He ended up signing with Bastia of the French first division but left after three seasons, joining Olympique Lyon in 2004. Soon, top teams from across Europe began lining up to try and buy out Essien's contract. Eventually, Chelsea stepped up and met Lyon's transfer fee demands in 2005 to bring the talented African to the English Premiership.

International career: Essien first made a name for himself when he helped Ghana finish third at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup. After impressing at the 2001 FIFA U-20 World Cup, he graduated to Ghana's senior team in time for the 2002 African Nations Cup and has been a mainstay for the Black Stars ever since. Essien was named African player of the year in 2007.

Why is he so special? Essien is renowned for his athleticism, tough tackling, sublime passing skills and ability to dictate the pace of the game with solid two-way play.

His most famous moment: Scoring a late winner against Valencia in Spain on April 10, 2007, to send Chelsea through to the semifinals of the Champions League.

He said it: "My biggest hero [growing up] was Roy Keane. I just loved the way he used to play, his attitude and commitment."

What they're saying about him: "He's an absolute machine, you see him working his socks off for six months in the gym and it pays dividends." - John Terry, Chelsea captain

Here's an interesting fact: As a 17-year-old, Essien went on a week-long trial with Manchester United but didn't sign with the Red Devils because of work permit issues.