Chelsea's midfield star, 25, admits he very nearly became a Red Devil after a week on trial at Old Trafford, aged 17.
Essien told The Sun: "I grew up in Accra in the city and I was the only boy in a family of four girls. That was difficult enough but my dad used to be a footballer and always encouraged me to just concentrate on that.
"All I wanted to do was play and, although we were poor, I used to kick an old ball around in the street with my friends. I started taking it seriously at about nine years old but my career really took off when I came home from the Under-17 World Cup.
"Suddenly lots of clubs were interested in me. I had always dreamed of playing in Europe and, as a boy, my team were Manchester United. When they offered me a one-week trial I just couldn't believe it, I was so happy.
"I remember being there and thinking 'Wow, this is the biggest club in the world'.
"I never had the courage to speak to any of the big players. I never even trained with the first-team squad. But I did train with the youth team and Kieran Richardson was there at the time.
"Now I play against some of the same names that were there, like Ryan Giggs. They probably don't even remember that I was there on trial."
At Ghana's Dubai training camp ahead of next week's African Nations Cup, shy Essien added: "My biggest hero was Roy Keane. I just loved the way he used to play, his attitude and commitment.
"I still try to play like him now and maybe people compare us as I play a similar holding role in midfield as he used to. At the end of the trial, the club said they really liked me and wanted to sign me.
"But they could not sort out a work permit and the move never happened. Instead, I ended up joining Bastia in France before moving to Lyon and then Chelsea.
"I'm not sure what Alex Ferguson would say about it now. Today I could move there no problem because I have the right documents.
"Right now I am just happy I chose the right club and hope I can go on and make United pay by winning lots of trophies."