Ten years ago I was reading this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/3036838.stm. And I was very excited.
Very little hasn’t happened to Chelsea in the 10 years since Roman Abramovich acquired our football club in 2003. We’ve won cups and titles aplenty, we’ve broken all kinds of records; we’ve enjoyed historic victories and suffered cruel defeats. I think that what has meant the most however, since the Russian’s arrival, is we’ve got to enjoy watching so many of the world’s greatest players plying their trade in a Chelsea shirt each and every week.
In ten years over 70 players have joined our club – some of whom were terrible, some of whom greatly disappointed and some whom never even played a game. Others however, it has been a genuine pleasure to watch and are owed a great deal of gratitude for their contribution in making Chelsea FC one of the greatest sport franchises in the world. This is a list of the ten players in the ‘Abramovich era’ most responsible for the reputation we now enjoy as a powerhouse of European and World football…
10. Claude Makelele – Wickedly underrated for the majority of his career. Even now, years after his retirement, as the position of ‘holding midfielder’ becomes more important and scrutinised in the modern game, people are beginning to appreciate just how talented and accomplished the Frenchman was in that position. Some fans, including myself admittedly, worried that Makelele limited Chelsea tactically/made them less flexible in the middle of the pitch (an argument I still maintain). What cannot be argued however was that his deployment in Jose Mourinho’s side was crucial to all of those outstanding defensive statistics as well as the attacking freedom of other players in the squad. Would Frank Lampard have scored so many goals without Makelele there to provide cover? – Unlikely, in my opinion.
9. Mikel John Obi – Surely no player could divide opinion on a list such as this as Mikel. Signed up at just 19 years old in 2006, he came to Chelsea with a reputation as one of the most exciting young forward players on the planet. Stuck immediately in front of the back four however by Jose Mourinho, the Nigerian quickly adapted to become one the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League. Currently I’m convinced he’s one of, if the not the most underrated player in the division. He still has his critics but let’s not forget, some of the greatest coaches in the world have all routinely picked and trusted Mikel for the length of his career so far and for the most part he’s repaid them with consistently excellent performances – the most flawless of all perhaps against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, where he was inch perfect up against the likes of Kroos, Muller and Schweinsteiger.
8. Michael Ballack – For a man who lost so many finals, it speaks volumes about the quality and the character of Michael Ballack that his reputation as a winner was never once called into question. Few players can inspire confidence and self-belief like he was always able to. Tough, fast and intelligent, at his best he was the perfect midfielder and just the sort of player we’ve missed so often since he left three years ago. It would’ve been great to have the German in his prime up against Yaya Toure in the FA Cup semi-final – what a match-up that would’ve been! Despite struggling with a few ankle injuries and never quite reaching the heights he hit at Bayern, Ballack’s four years at Chelsea were a success as far as I’m concerned. In a number of roles and positions he was an incredibly consistent performer and a leader for the club as they dealt with the loss of Mourinho from 2007. He saved his best Chelsea games for last also; he was imperious throughout our double winning campaign of 2010.
7. Ricardo Carvalho – Of all the men to partner John Terry throughout the Englishmen’s career, Ricardo Carvalho stands comfortably above all of them – although David Luiz may be quickly catching him. At his best, Ricky was arguably a better defender than Terry, though he never really received similar acclaim. A stalwart and practically a permanent fixture in Jose Mourinho’s back fours for the majority of his career – his contribution to all of those phenomenal defensive statistics as well as to the evolution of the position of the centre half, into a more well rounded footballer (especially in England) was extraordinary; and fundamental to so many of our achievements.
6. Michael Essien – For me it’s such a shame that my lasting impression of a player as good as Michael Essien was in his prime, will always be one of such profound regret and disappointment that he had his career destroyed by horrific, yet preventable knee injuries. There was a time when no other midfielder in Europe could touch Essien; nobody had such a devastating combination of strength, speed and technique. For three years (from 2006-2008) when ever anybody asked who I thought Chelsea’s best player was, I wouldn’t hesitate to name the Ghanaian. His volley in the semi-final against Barcelona in 2009 is still the best goal I’ve ever seen scored in a Chelsea shirt.
5. Ashley Cole – Only a lack of years spent at Chelsea prevents our left back from being placed higher on this list. Had he been at Chelsea from the start of his career then he’d be a legitimate contender for our greatest ever player – no one else at the club can boast having been the best in the world in their position for such a long period of time. Of all the superstar names to have been purchased by RA, I think Cole might’ve be the most underappreciated, purely as a consequence of being the most routinely world-class. He’s still exceptional and a key player in the current squad. He’ll leave a huge hole in the squad when his quality and fitness finally does begin to fade.
4. Petr Cech – For nine years now, our Czech #1 has been the first name on the team sheet. From day one he’s been exceptional for Chelsea and in my opinion, has only gotten better. There isn’t a single aspect of his goalkeeping you could possibly highlight as a weakness. He’s commanding, always calm, athletic and also great with his feet under pressure, acting as a fifth man back when needed. Since his infamous head injury (undoubtedly one of the real low points of the Abramovich era so far) he’s been unfortunate to have been consistently overlooked behind Iker Cassilas and Gigi Buffon amongst the world’s greatest keepers. If not for those two (and his injury), Cech may well have owned that title exclusively for the past eight years. Regardless, he’s a bona fide Chelsea legend and without questions one of the greatest keepers in the history of English football.
3. Didier Drogba – Last year, Didier Drogba won a fans poll voting for the greatest Chelsea player of all time. Whether he deserved it is up for debate, though he’s certainly a serious candidate, what can’t be doubted for a second is that he was the greatest big-game player the club has ever seen. His incredible ability to raise his game, as well as those around him when it mattered the most, was an invaluable asset, possessed to the same extent by very few other professional sportsmen in the world, let alone footballers. A lot of credit is given (rightly) to Jose Mourinho for creating a winning mentality at Chelsea, but the character and the brilliance of Drogba certainly played a huge part as well in the creation of this winning culture. Nine goals in nine finals, including the winning goal in 3 FA Cups and goals in all seven of his appearances at Wembley, is simply a ridiculous record. His equalising header and winning penalty in Munich last year are also (and will remain for a long time) the two greatest moments in Chelsea’s history.
2. Frank Lampard – Very few things have remained constant at Chelsea since Abramovich’s take over. Nine different managers and almost one hundred different players have represented the club since 2003. Throughout all of it however, Frank Lampard has scored goals. Fucking loads of them! One of the finest English players of his generation and statistically the best/most successful Premier League player of the previous decade, he’s also been one of the most popular players in all of Europe for the majority of his career. With 243 career goals, 14 career trophies and over 20 individual awards so far, his name is well and truly etched into the history books of Chelsea and the Premier League, as the latter’s fourth all time highest scorer and 2nd all time highest assist maker. His record 203rd goal for Chelsea this season was, personally, one of the greatest and most touching moments of sport I’ve ever witnessed live. It was proof enough for me that nobody has taken being a Chelsea player more seriously than Frank Lampard has for the last 12 years.
1. John Terry – Perhaps a controversial choice from a neutral perspective, but a perfectly obvious one from a fan’s view point. Relentlessly ambitious, masterfully disciplined and totally impervious to adversity/outside pressures; John has been the perfect leader for Chelsea FC throughout this fantastic period - real fans of the sport would be foolish to allow ultimately trivial misdemeanours to detract from the professional character of a man who has been an outstanding athlete and captain since 1998. It really is madness how ready people are to forget just what a world-class centre half John was in his prime. The most individually decorated defender of the 21st century; for five straight years he was voted into the FIFA World XI – something not even the likes of Puyol, Nesta, Cannavaro, Thuram, Lucio or Vidic ever managed to achieve. 55 career goals for a defender isn’t too bad of a record either. His status in the squad and reputation may have fallen somewhat over the past couple of years. For me however, Terry is (and will remain for some time) the greatest and most iconic player of the Roman Abramovich era, and the single greatest contributor to our successes of the last ten years.