French teams Lyon and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) were both keen on signing Michael Essienfrom Bastia in the summer of 2003. In the end, Michael Essien snubbed PSG in favour of Lyon in a €7.8m transfer. PSG offered a better transfer feefor Essienthan Lyonand it was accepted by Bastia, but the player preferred a move to Lyon.

Michael Essien was given the number 4 shirt at Lyon when he signed for them from fellow French team Bastiaand he was mostly used as a box-to-box midfielder thus allowing him to provide support for Brazilian playmaker Juninho, while defensive midfielders MahamadouDiarra and Edmilson provided cover for the defence.

Essien was given his Lyon debut in the French Super Cup clash with Auxerre on July 27, 2003 and it took him just five minutes to make his mark on the game. Michael Essien scored the opener before Diarra added a second Lyon goal four minutes later. Lyon went on to win the game 2-1 to emerge as the French Super Cup champions with Michael Essien winning his first major silverware at club level.
Michael Essien scored his first league goal for Lyon in just his third league game for the defending championson the way to a 3-1 win over AS Monaco. In his first season as a Lyon player, Essien scored three goals in 36 league appearances. Apart from Monaco, the Ghanaian midfielder also scored against Bordeaux and Rennes. Essien was a substitute as Lyon clinched a third successive league title with the 3-0 home win over Lille on May 23, 2004. In the Champions League, Essien played eight out of the ten games in his debut season in the competition as Lyon crashed out to eventual winners FC Porto at the quarterfinal stage. His first game in the Champions League was in the colours of Lyon.