Michael Essien, the indefatigable Chelsea midfielder, will be one of the many high profile African players missing from the Premier League in January when the African Nations Cup takes centre stage.
Essien, who plays his international football for Ghana, the country staging the 2008 edition of the tournament, speaks to ESPNsoccernet on a variety of matters from Chelsea's Champions League draw and life at Chelsea under Avram Grant as well as the host country's chances in January's Nations Cup.
ESPNsoccernet: Michael, we've had the Champions League draw and Chelsea have been drawn with Olympiacos. What do you think of that?
Essien: I think it's a good draw for us and I think Olympiacos are a very good side. I think it's going to be interesting. We are looking forward to beating them and moving onto the next stage.
ESPNsoccernet: Disappointed that you didn't get your former club Lyon, or are you saving them for later? Maybe a final?
Essien: Well for me, I don't mind playing anyone. So it's good that we got Olympiacos and we'll show them what we can do.
ESPNsoccernet: How has it working with Avram Grant as the new manager?
Essien: I think so far so good. He's doing really well. We are getting our points. We are winning games. So I think he is doing well at the moment. Hopefully things will get better at the end of the season.
ESPNsoccernet: Chelsea will be very sad to lose you for the African Cup of Nations. Of course, it's a proud moment for you particularly that it's in Ghana, where you're from. How do you feel about going back home?
Essien: I feel great. We are hosting the Nation's Cup. I think the nation is expecting more from us. I think that puts pressure on us, but I think we can do it. For leaving my club to go and play is a little bit sad, but I have no choice. I have to go and help my country as well.
ESPNsoccernet: And just having a look at your group, you've got Namibia, Guinea, and Morocco. Not too bad, is it?
Essien: Well, for me, I think it's really tough, you know. Football now, you can't underrate anybody. Everybody can do it, so we have to take it seriously and work really hard. Hopefully we can win the group and go to the next stage.
ESPNsoccernet: The opening game is on the 20th of January and that's against Guinea. What sort of atmosphere do you think that'll be for the opening game?
Essien: It's going to be massive. I think that the nation just can't wait for us to start the tournament. It's going to be a really good game and I think hopefully we can win it.
ESPNsoccernet: Ghana had a great World Cup. How much has the team improved since that time?
Essien: Yeah, I think we did really well during the World Cup. Ever since, I think we won all of our friendly games. We only lost to Brazil I think, one to nil. I think the team is doing really well at the moment and we are confident that we can do something
ESPNsoccernet: You've got one of the most enviable midfields in the world with Appiah, Sulley Muntari, and yourself. How do you rate that as a midfield?
Essien: I think our strongest is in the midfield. Me, Muntari, and Appiah in the midfield I think is one of the best midfields in the world. They expected more from us so we've got a big, tough task ahead of us.
ESPNsoccernet: And if Ghana go all the way, who do you think would be your opponent in the final?
Essien: I don't know. I can't predict, but I would just say anybody. Anybody can get to the final.
ESPNsoccernet: In your opinion, what are the strongest sides out there? Maybe give us three or four names.
Essien: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
ESPNsoccernet: It's a great shame of course that Chelsea will be losing you, but not only you. There's some phenomenal African players such as (see if you can cut this part out) Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, and John Obi Mikel. How do you think Chelsea will cope in your absence?
Essien: I think it's a massive blow for the club. They will lose four important players. I think we've got great players who can do the job while we are away. So for me I don't think it'll be a big problem, because they can do the job.