We take a look at the 6 transfers which transformed Chelsea during the Roman Abramovich era
Following the takeover of Chelsea in 2003 by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for a fee of £140m, the incoming owner began the Stamford Bridge renaissance with significant investment which has spanned 18 years.
During this era, it has been the the Blues most successful period in their history, and we look at which Abramovich signings played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s illustrious success in their new era.
1. Didier Drogba
Arguably the most influential Chelsea signing under Abramovich, the Drogba arrived at Chelsea with a reputation for goals.
After introducing himself at Marseille during his first season which saw a return of 19 goals in Ligue 1 while helping the club reach the 2004 UEFA Cup Final, Chelsea began its revival a year after Roman Abramovich took control of Chelsea with the capture of the Ivorian – alongside The Special One.
Drogba arrived as one of the first pieces to the puzzle in Jose Mourinho’s record-breaking season at Stamford Bridge, though it wasn’t a match made in heaven straight away.
The Ivorian somewhat struggled to adapt in his debut season, scoring a modest ten goals in Mourinho’s title-winning debut season which saw a return of 95 points – a record at the time.
Despite returning the title to the Bridge for the first time in 50 years, Drogba later admitted the doubt he had following his first season regarding his Chelsea future after being out of his comfort zone, though the striker subsequently made Stamford Bridge his own comfort zone in the seasons to come.
By the time he left Chelsea, he became one of the clubs greatest ever players and one of the most important Abramovich signings in the new Blues era.
While becoming arguably the greatest African to play in the Premier League, the striker scored 157 goals in 341 matches and became a pivotal part of the four titles and four FA Cup victories.
But what firmly cemented his name into legendary status was his inspired performance in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. In Bavaria. At the Allianz Arena.
The odds were firmly against them and yet the Ivorian rose above the rest to not only equalise in the final minutes, but score the winning penalty which proved to be the final kick of his illustrious first spell in London.
“As far as I was concerned, Didier Drogba won the Champions League for Chelsea”Sir Alex Ferguson on Didier Drogba in 2012
A poetic end to his first Chelsea spell – but it wasn’t finished there.
Two years later, he arrived back at Stamford Bridge for a last dance which his beloved Chelsea alongside the manager that first brought the striker to England – Jose Mourinho.
Though it wasn’t a typically prolific season – arriving at age 36 with a return of four goals – he continued to harass the giants of the league with important goals against Manchester United and Newcastle United to seal his fourth and final Premier League title.
2. Claude Makelele
A player who knew his role so well, it became named ‘The Makelele Role’ for years to come.
With the incoming Jose Mourinho tactically overhauling the side to a 4-3-3 which went against the grain of the typical 4-4-2 system in English football at the time, it birthed a role which became the heart of Chelsea’s success.
After being signed for £16.6m from Real Madrid where he became an unsung hero of the famous Galactico side, it would be the Blues who gained – a Chelsea signing under Abramovich which held significant importance for their initial success.
He wasn’t a header of the ball and rarely passed the ball more than three metres. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makelele to be forgotten.Real Madrid President Florentino Perez on Claude Makalele’s departure from Real Madrid in 2003. The Guardian
The 4-3-3 system deployed by Mourinho with Makelele at the heart of the side took the Premier League by storm, earning a then-record 95 points and the record for the fewest number of goals conceded in a single season – an incredible 15 goals in 38 games.
The Frenchman was vital in earning Chelsea back-to-back titles, alongside three domestic trophies and the club’s first appearance in a Champions League final.
There are very few players who make a permanent impact on football – Claude Makelele is one of them.
3. Petr Cech
The signs of Petr Cech’s pedigree were there from the age of 19 where he became a first team regular for Sparta Prague and did not concede a goal in 903 competitive minutes.
After two successful seasons with Rennes in France, Chelsea acquired the Czech Republic international for a modest £7m in 2004 – which proved to be a vital signing in Mourinho’s historic Chelsea side.
Cech took the Premier League by storm in his first season, registering a record-breaking 21 clean sheets as Chelsea cruised to the title in 2005 and then retained the title a year later.
Though it wasn’t plain sailing for the goalkeeper, who suffered a career-threatening head injury against Reading in 2006, though only put him out of action for three months.
Upon returning, Cech continued to elevate his game and firmly cement himself as one of the greatest Premier League goalkeepers of all time, winning a further two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League trophy since his injury.
Despite signings in the Abramovich era typically involving large fees and star names, Petr Cech represented impressive recruitment and shrewd business – and the Czech star will be remembered at Stamford Bridge for years to come.
4. Ashley Cole
The transfer is still regarded as one of the most controversial sagas in Premier League history as Arsenal and Chelsea were embroiled in a bitter battle over Ashley Cole.
Chelsea were accused of making an illegal approach to the representatives of Cole who met with Jose Mourinho and the Blues’ chief executive Peter Kenyon, which resulted in a £300k fine to the club and a £75k fine to the Portuguese manager.
The saga ended with Cole moving to Stamford Bridge for a mere £5m fee and William Gallas who moved in the opposite direction.
“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe. He was such a tenacious player, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”Cristiano Ronaldo when questioned on his toughest opponent. Source: Sky Sports
Despite the fines and criticism that followed, the move proved to be worth it as the England international continued his sparkling form from his Arsenal days to quickly become arguably the greatest left-back to play in the Premier League.
Cole ended his Chelsea career with countless honours, winning the Premier League, League Cup, Europa League, Champions League and four FA Cups – going down as a legend at Stamford Bridge and vital Chelsea signing under Abramovich.
5. Eden Hazard
It all began on the 28th May 2012 when the football world were awaiting the decision of the supremely talented Belgian youngster Eden Hazard who had two choices – Chelsea or Manchester United.
Hazard arrived from Lille in a £32m deal with Chelsea along with a huge reputation aged just 21 years-old after his impressive rise in France.
The winger’s time at Chelsea was filled with the highest of highs, which involved quickly becoming on the best players to grace the Premier League, managed by countless managers who he enjoyed both success and failure with.
During his maiden season with the Blues, Hazard earned his first piece of silverware with a Europa League victory under Rafa Benitez, who was replaced shortly after with Jose Mourinho.
It was under the tutelage of Mourinho where Eden Hazard’s game began to elevate. His 14 goals and 10 assists en route to his first Premier League title earned him the PFA Player of the Year award.
Despite this, the following year saw a return of just four goals which resulted from falling out of favour with the Portuguese manager, who was sacked that season.
Though Hazard’s finest football preceded the Mourinho era where his sensational form under Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri saw him win a further Premier League and FA Cup title prior to his £100m move to Real Madrid, where his season finale saw a return of 16 goals and 15 assists.
6. Ricardo Carvalho
Fresh off winning European glory with Porto, Jose Mourinho departed for Chelsea with the aim of bringing his fellow compatriot with him to London – for a fee of £24m.
Ricardo Carvalho settled in at Stamford Bridge far quicker than some expected, creating a partnership with John Terry which will go down as one of the greatest defensive pairings in English football.
After being at the heart of the side which conceded just 15 goals in 38 games on their way to Premier League glory in 2005 – a record which is still untouched – alongside retaining the title the following season.
The Portuguese defender will go down as one of the most impressive Chelsea signings under Abramovich.