Michael Essien played his first game for the Ghana senior team careerduring an international friendly encounter with the Pharaohs of Egypt on January 4, 2002. The game was in preparation for the 2002 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Mali. Michael Essien made his competitive debut for the team during the group stage clash with Morocco on January 21, 2002.

Essienbecame an important player in the Ghana senior national team setup on the back of his outing at the aforementioned tournament in Mali. He was part of the Ghana team that qualified for the World Cup for the first time ahead of the 2006 edition in Germany. Michael Essien formed a strong midfield trio at the tournament on German soil alongside SulleyMuntari and Stephen Appiah. With his input in midfield, Ghana were the only African team to qualify for the round of 16. He was suspended for the round of 16 clash with Brazil which ended in a 3-0 defeat for his team.

At the 2008 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament on home soil, Michael Essien and his teammates reached the last four.Essien took the captain's armband after John Mensah was sent off for a professional foul onOsazeOdemwingie and he subsequently led his team over the line for a 2-1 win over the Super Eagles of Nigeria in their quarterfinal tie. He made the bestteam at the end of the tournament.
Michael Essien featured in 10 of the 11 games as Ghana qualified for their second FIFA World Cup tournament ahead of the 2010 edition in South Africa. It was the first World Cup tournament hosted on African soil. Essien missed out on the tournament due to a knee injury as Ghana came close to becoming the first African country to reach the last four in the history of the tournament. The midfielder didn't recover in time for the World Cup tournament as a result of the abovementioned knee issue. He was absent as Ghana lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarterfinals.