Essien turns 32, speaks to Al-Smith about Ebola rumours and Black Stars business
Happy birthday, Michael, you are 32 on Wednesday. What’s been the most memorable thing of the past year?
Well, my most memorable thing wasn’t the most pleasant. The whole Ebola hoax …
Yes, two months ago you were a victim of a Twitter hoax which said that you had Ebola. Tell me your version of events
It was a Sunday. I trained as usual that morning and went home in the afternoon to relax and chill out. Then I got a call from our club doctor who told me there was news out that I had Ebola. I said: “How can I have Ebola? You saw me this morning at training so what do you mean I have Ebola?”
Within minutes, my media team had sent me Twitter messages of the hoax and websites on which it was trending. We joked about it and put it to bed.
But within 45 to 60 minutes, it was all over the news and I was getting messages from friends, family and ordinary people asking how I was.
I was even getting get well soon messages and that’s when it dawned on me that I had to do something to stop it getting out of hand. So, together with Milan and our media team we released a statement clearly stating it was a hoax and there was no truth in the rumour that I had Ebola.
And that’s when the whole thing started to die down. Still, it took about two days or so for people to actually stop talking about it.
Did you at any stage in those two days panic about the whole thing? No. I won’t say I panicked or stressed but it was not an enjoyable experience.
My family was worried about me in London and Ghana to the extent that my mum rang me to double check that I was fine the next day. I don’t enjoy my mum being stressed so that part was not a good experience and it wasn’t fair on the true sufferers of Ebola and their families. It’s not a joke and people need to understand that.
What do you make of the power of social media in all this?
It’s unbelievably powerful in promoting good activities and messages but the downside is that it can promote bad activities and messages and that’s the danger of it all. When all the rumours were spreading so fast I felt I needed to act to curb it by sending strong messages via social media.
Within weeks of the Ebola hoax dying down, the guys at Health Africa International approached my friends George Weah, Mahamadou Diarra and I to be part of the initiative in using various forms of communication to promote a Ebola prevention education programme. I think using social media in a good way is the best thing to do hence my participation.
Is that why you have become so focused on Ebola education?
Yes. I know there are lots of good medical and material efforts going on to help the real sufferers of Ebola. I heard on the news that over 7,000 people have now died but prevention is better than cure and that is where the #UnitedAgstEbola campaign comes in.
It is a fund-raising campaign where the money will be used to educate West Africans about the prevention of Ebola and debunking the myths around the disease.
George, Mahamadou and I have been asking all our footy friends to say a few words about the whole Ebola situation to support this campaign. These messages should be shared via all social media channels so people can watch, do their own videos and donate.
So if this social media hoax had not happened, would you have done anything to help Ebola sufferers?
Actually, my team and I were discussing the disease and how we could help with efforts when this whole fiasco happened. All this hoax achieved was to speed up my collaboration with Health Africa International and others to use all the money raised from this project to undertake prevention and educational programs across West Africa.
I know how it is to be a victim of ignorance. It is crucial that we hammer home the prevention message. From my experience, the best places to do this will be at schools, churches, community groups and compound houses.
There is no internet to empower most of these people so we need to act fast. In terms of transparency, Ernst & Young Ghana will use the funds to implement the programmes independently and all records will be public. So I urge everyone to record a video and tag #UnitedAgstEbola and donate at www.healthafricainternational.com
Let’s talk about football and your former club Chelsea. They are in superb shape. How similar is this team to the 2004-5 side you played in?
It’s too early to say they are racing to the Premier League but they have put themselves in a good position. I am sure they know nothing is won in December so they will keep going till the end.
It’s a totally different team [to our team] as we were a destructive team. We had some flair players but not as many as the current team, and what we did well was destroy teams and made sure you never had a sniff of a chance. This team will get there at some point but they are a delight to watch and I am sure Chelsea fans are loving their play.
So will José Mourinho be the champion of England again in May?
Difficult to say because it’s too early in the season. But I will not put it past him and I have no doubt with his abilities and the team’s desire they will undoubtedly be there in the end. Rest assured.
Avram Grant is the new coach of the Ghana national team. Having worked with him before, what kind of coach was he?
First and foremost he is a good man and one of the funniest you will ever meet. We have remained friends to this day and I speak to him once in a while. He is a good coach and I am sure he will bring all his experiences to the Ghana job.
It’s not going to be easy, but I have no doubt he will give it 100%.
With a new coach there is always a chance of coming back to the Ghana team, especially as you are getting more playing time with Milan. Are you looking forward to a call-up from Grant?
I don’t know about comebacks or anything of that sort. As I have said in the recent past we will see. There is no guarantee that he will even call me up anyway so it’s a bit of a hypothetical question and if he does we will see.