African Legends Cup of Nations: Yaya Toure vs Michael Essien

Yaya Toure and Michael Essien both reached the pinnacle of the European game during their storied club careers, with the former winning the Champions League with Barcelona and the latter with Chelsea.

They’re both former Premier League winners, and each are among their nation’s greatest ever players.

However, only one of them can reach the final four of the African Legends Cup of Nations…who’s it going to be?

International Career

Toure endured regular disappointment at the Africa Cup of Nations; his first five appearances all ended in disappointment—although he did reach the final twice.

However, Herve Renard’s arrival as Elephants’ head coach in 2014 changed the West Africans’ fortunes, and Yaya was a key man in the Ivorians’ success against Ghana in 2015.

Yaya also featured on the grandest stage of all three times, although the Elephants never advanced to the Round of 16, which must surely represent one of his career regrets.

Essien also endured some near misses during his career, only featuring in three Afcons—largely due to injury—despite being part of a fine Ghanaian generation.

He reached the final in 2010, but fell short against Egypt, and while he was part of the Ghana side that reached the Last 16 of the 2006 World Cup, injury denied him the chance to participate in the run to the quarter-finals four years later.

Club Honours
These two are serial winners at club level.

Toure was a European champion with Barcelona—despite being asked to play as a centre-back in the final against Manchester United—and won two La Ligas and two Premier Leagues as an important figure with two exceptional club sides.

He also won major domestic cup honours with both Barca and Manchester City, and was a key protagonist in their FA Cup success of 2011, scoring the winner in both the semi-final and the final as the Sky Blues ended their 35-year wait for a major trophy.

It was the victory that set City on their way to becoming the modern super club they are today.

Essien was twice a Prem champion—matching Yaya’s achievement—and also clinched Ligue 1 twice with Olympique Lyonnais, emulating the Ivorian’s return with Barca.

He also won three FA Cups and the UCL in 2012, although he was an unused substitute in the final. By this point, injuries had limited The Bison’s contribution, and it’s worth noting that in Chelsea’s victorious 2010-11 season, he managed just 11 appearances.

Individual Accolades

Toure makes more ground on Essien here, winning this category by seven points.

He’s a four-time African Footballer of the Year—nobody has won the award on more occasions—and also made the podium once more.

He also received votes in the Ballon d’Or in five separate seasons, demonstrating his consistency at the highest level, and no one has made the Caf Team of the Year more times than Toure (seven).

Essien never clinched the Caf award, although he did make the podium five times and clinched the BBC African Footballer of the Year award.

The midfielder was Ligue 1 Player of the Year for 2005, only the third African player after Ali Benarbia and Didier Drogba to win the award, and was named in Caf’s Team of the Year on four occasions.


There are no question marks about Toure’s ability to settle games at the highest level, with some arguing that he deserved to win the PWA Player of the Year award ahead of Luis Suarez in 2014.

Here was a player who decided the biggest games and who could dominate the most high-profile matches, with his exceptional performance in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final victory over United an ideal example.

On this occasion, his physicality, dynamism and relentlessness in the heart of the park proved too much for Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, two fine performers themselves.

Toure is, along with Frank Lampard, one of only two central midfielders to have hit the 20-goal mark in a Premier League season, and will be remembered as one of Africa’s most talented players.

In his prime, before injury struck, Essien was a complete central midfielder.

He could tackle, he could drive forward with the ball at his feet, he could pass, and, on occasion, would weight in with a goal or two.

His strength, energy and determination were all key attributes, and Essien was intelligent enough, and versatile enough, to be drafted into a right-back role when required.

The Bison was twice signed by Jose Mourinho, who he refers to as Daddy, and could have had an even higher score here had injury not intervened.

Overall Rating

While Essien’s score of 58 has been enough to take him to the Alcon quarter-finals, he’s been comfortably outgunned by Yaya here, who advances with a 20-point margin.

Of course, the great caveat of Essien’s career is injuries, and had he maintained his pre-2007-08 trajectory, he would surely have scored much higher than he ultimately did.

Even though he would later get his hands on the Champions League, it was as a peripheral figure, and missing out on Ghana’s run at the 2010 World Cup must have been one of the bitterest moments for a player who endured his fair share of misfortune.

Yaya advances after a clean sweep across all categories, but can he now make the final?

Essien 58 Yaya: 78

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