Former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien of Ghana (L) takes part in a ceremony announcing his joining of the Indonesian football club Persib in Bandung on March 14, 2017. Essien has officially joined Indonesian football club Persib Bandung after months of lobbying, the club said on March 14. / AFP PHOTO / TIMUR MATAHARI
Former Chelsea, AC Milan and Real Madrid midfielder Michael Essien has signed with Indonesia’s Persib Bandung, the club announced Tuesday, the highest-profile player to join a team in the country for years.
The Ghanaian signed a one-year contract for an undisclosed sum to join Persib, which is one of the best clubs in the country.
The 34-year-old had not been playing with a team since he left Greece’s Panathinaikos at the end of last season.
“I will give my very best to Persib,” Essien, wearing a club shirt, told media at the team’s headquarters in Bandung.
When asked what he knew about football in Indonesia, he conceded “not very much” but added that he had visited the country with Chelsea before.
However the move to Indonesia could turn out to be a shock.
Football in Southeast Asia’s biggest nation has been wracked by crisis for years, with an explosive row between the domestic association and government prompting FIFA to ban Indonesia from international competition in 2015.
The domestic league ground to a halt for a while amid the row, but FIFA lifted the suspension in May last year and football in the country is slowly starting to recover.
Foreign players have also been badly treated by Indonesian clubs, with at least two known to have died in recent years after going unpaid and being unable to afford medical treatment.
Essien is the best-known international footballer to join an Indonesian side since the 1990s, when Cameroon World Cup star Roger Milla and Argentine World Cup winner Mario Kempes both played in the country.
The Ghanaian said he was approached by teams from other countries, including Turkey and Australia, but he had been impressed by Persib, without giving further details.
The club would not be drawn on how much they had paid for him.
“The contract value is large because he is a former Chelsea player, I cannot reveal (the amount),” said Teddy Tjahjono, one of the club’s directors.
Persib finished fifth in last year’s Indonesian Soccer Championship.