Chelsea and Ghana midfielder Essien has appeared in the final three in the past four years without winning the honour, while the Blues' Ivory Coast striker Drogba won the gong - decided by the votes of African nations' national coaches - in 2006.
Barcelona midfielders Seydou Keita and Yaya Toure both made the initial five-man shortlist but were cut in fabour of the Premier League stars, and Eto'o.
The winner will be announced on March 11 in Ghana.
Past winner: Drogba
In the final three: Eto'o
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