An All-Time Chelsea Best XI
It’s a question that has been posed in many a pub along the Fulham Road: Who would you pick for Chelsea’s Greatest XI?
Now, finally, we have the answer. Or, rather, we have an answer—from me. Yes, this is my best-ever, most sensational, absolutely fantastic, all-time totally-blue football team.
Perhaps I should explain at this point that I have been watching Chelsea for a long time, having attended my first game at the Bridge with my father way back in 1971 (a 4-1 thrashing of West Brom, since you ask). So, I like to think I know my David Lee from my David Luiz, my Micky Hazard from my Eden Hazard and my Peter Nicholas from my Nicolas Anelka.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve only considered players for my Greatest XI from among those I’ve seen in action over the last 40 years. However, I have found space on my substitutes’ bench for one player from a slightly earlier era. You might well be able to guess who that is.
But which 11 players make my starting lineup? Let the slideshow reveal all...
1. Petr Cech
418 appearances (2004- )
With a phenomenal haul of silverware to his name—including three league titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League—Petr Cech is easily the most successful goalkeeper in Chelsea history. Most fans would argue that he is the best, too, his imposing physique and ability to command his area giving the Czech the edge over old favourite Peter Bonetti.
Cech also has a fantastically cool temperament, a quality he demonstrated to great effect in the 2012 Champions League Final, when he dived to block former teammate Arjen Robben’s penalty in extra time and then palmed away two further Bayern Munich spot kicks in the subsequent penalty shootout, paving the way for the Blues’ ultimate triumph.
2. Ron Harris
795 appearances, 14 goals (1962-80)
An uncompromising defender whose wince-inducing tackles earned him the nickname “Chopper,” Ron Harris captained the flamboyant Chelsea side of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He played an instrumental role in the Blues’ first-ever FA Cup Final triumph in 1970, switching from centre-back to full-back in the replay at Old Trafford to negate the threat of Leeds’ dangerous winger Eddie Gray. The following year, Harris led Chelsea to the club’s first-ever European success, following victory over Real Madrid in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Athens.
By the time he joined Brentford as player/coach in 1980, he had played an incredible 795 games for the Blues, setting a club record that is unlikely ever to be beaten.
3. Ashley Cole
305 appearances, 7 goals
A hate figure for opposition fans, Ashley Cole has ignored all the jibes to become the most complete left-back in English football history.
Signed from Arsenal in 2006 in a swap deal which saw William Gallas move in the opposite direction, Cole has enjoyed enormous success with the Blues, winning four FA Cups (taking his total to an all-time record of seven), the Premier League title, and the Champions League in 2012.
Defensively strong and dependable, his pace and crossing ability make him a huge attacking threat down the left wing. One of just seven players to win 100 caps for England, Cole is the first Chelsea player to reach three figures for the Three Lions.
4. Marcel Desailly
222 appearances, 7 goals (1998-2004)
Not for nothing was Marcel Desailly known throughout the football world as “The Rock.” His tackling ability, reading of the game and ability to drive forward from deep made him a huge asset to the Blues, whether he was playing at the back or in a defensive midfield role.
Signed for £4.6 million from AC Milan in 1998 just before he won the World Cup with France, Desailly immediately shored up a previously leaky Blues defence, forming a formidable partnership with fellow Frenchman Frank Leboeuf. In his first season with the club, he helped Chelsea finish a then best-ever third in the Premier League while losing just three games.
His only major honour with the Blues was the FA Cup in 2000, but he also played a key role in helping the Londoners qualify for the Champions League on two occasions, in 2003 heading a vital rare goal against Liverpool that ensured Chelsea's entry to the elite European competition ahead of the Reds.
Club captain for three years following the departure of Dennis Wise in 2001, Desailly eventually moved on to Qatari side Al Gharafa in 2004.
5. John Terry
568 appearances, 53 goals (1998- )
The most successful captain in the history of Chelsea, John Terry has been a rock-like presence at the heart of the Blues’ defence for well over a decade.
A Chelsea youth product who started out as a creative midfielder, JT came through the ranks to cement a first-team place in the 2000-01 season, when his committed performances earned him the club’s Player of the Year award.
Since then, of course, he has won enough silverware to open his own chain of jewellery stores, with three Premier League titles to his name as well as five FA Cups. Sadly, he missed out on the Champions League success of 2012 through suspension, but he demonstrated his “Mr Chelsea” credentials by celebrating as wildly as any other player when he went up to collect the trophy with club vice-captain Frank Lampard.
6. Ruud Gullit
64 appearances, 7 goals (1995-98)
It’s no exaggeration to say that Ruud Gullit transformed Chelsea FC when he joined the club on a free transfer from Sampdoria in the summer of 1995.
The dreadlocked former World Footballer of the Year may have been nearing the end of his glittering career, but his ability to dominate a match—whether as sweeper or in a midfield position—was undiminished, and he thrilled crowds at the Bridge with some spectacular performances over the next two years.
Runner-up to Eric Cantona in the Footballer of the Year poll in 1996, Gullit was appointed Chelsea player/manager by popular demand that same year, and his reputation was such that the Blues were able to attract players of the quality of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo to the Bridge—a highly unlikely scenario just a few years earlier.
In his first season in charge, Gullit led the Blues to glory in the FA Cup, the club’s first major trophy in over a quarter of a century.
Despite his relatively low total of appearances for the club, Gullit’s magnificent range of passing lands him a slot in this Greatest Chelsea XI as a deep-lying playmaker with licence to move forward as he sees fit.
7. Alan Hudson
189 appearances, 14 goals (1969-74)
The creative hub of the great Chelsea side of the early 1970s, local boy Alan Hudson broke into the Blues team as an 18-year-old and so impressed Sir Alf Ramsey that he was on the England manager's shortlist of players to go to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Sadly, “Huddy” was denied that opportunity after sustaining a bad ankle injury, which also kept him out of the FA Cup Final against Leeds. However, he was back to his best the following season, helping Chelsea win the European Cup Winners’ Cup after two epic tussles with Real Madrid in the final in Athens.
A superb passer of the ball who always looked for the most attacking option first, Hudson was also an excellent dribbler, a strong tackler and a powerful runner with boundless stamina. In short, he had pretty much every attribute you could ask for in a midfield player, apart from the goalscorer's instincts of a Frank Lampard.
One of a number of fun-loving members of the Chelsea squad at the time, Hudson didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Dave Sexton, his rather straitlaced Blues boss, and following a row between player and manager in 1974, he was sold to Stoke for a then club-record fee of £240,000.
8. Frank Lampard
596 appearances, 200 goals
Now the second-highest goalscorer in Chelsea history, Frank Lampard joined the Blues from West Ham in 2001 in an £11 million deal, and, over the next few years, emerged as one of the best midfielders in the world.
After a quiet start to his Bridge career, Lampard added extra facets to his game, becoming much more than the hard-running box-to-box player he had been at Upton Park. Team and individual honours followed at an extraordinary rate, with Lamps scooping up the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award in 2005, the same year that he helped Chelsea win the league title for the first time since 1955. He also just missed out on the World and European Player of the Year awards, finishing second to Brazilian maestro Ronaldinho in both categories.
Arguably, though, his greatest moment came last season, when, in the absence of regular skipper John Terry, he led the Blues to glory in the Champions League, a competition in which he had experienced some agonising near misses in previous campaigns.
9. Gianfranco Zola
312 appearances, 80 goals (1996-2003)
Not many overseas players can claim to have made as big an impact on the Premier League as Gianfranco Zola, who joined Chelsea from Parma in 1996 for £4.5 million.
In his first season at the Bridge, Zola’s dazzling ball control, visionary passing and ferocious shooting helped power Chelsea to FA Cup glory, the club’s first trophy in 26 years. At the end of the campaign, he was named Footballer of the Year by the football writers, the first Chelsea player to win this coveted award.
The following season, he starred again as the Blues won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, coming off the bench to score with a fierce drive in the final against Stuttgart after he had been on the pitch for just a matter of seconds.
Voted the club’s greatest-ever player in an online poll in 2003, Zola left the Blues that same year to join Cagliari, in his native Sardinia. He has since returned to England to manage West Ham and, currently, Watford.
In this Greatest XI, I see Zola operating behind two strikers in a 4-3-1-2 formation, devised in part to give the little Italian genius maximum freedom to express his sublime skills.
10. Peter Osgood
380 appearances, 150 goals (1964-74 and 1978-79)
Nicknamed “The King of Stamford Bridge” by the hordes of Chelsea fans who idolised him, Peter Osgood was the star player of the brilliant Blues side of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A uniquely gifted centre-forward, Ossie was a tall, elegant player with superb ball control who was strong in the air and could score from virtually any angle with either foot. His finest moment came in 1970, when he scored a memorable equaliser for the Blues in the FA Cup Final replay against archrivals Leeds, paving the way for his side’s ultimate victory. He had scored in every previous round, too, and remains the last player to achieve this feat.
Osgood was again a central figure when the Blues won the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year, scoring in both games in the final against Real Madrid in Athens. He was on target in the League Cup Final in 1972, as well, but on that occasion, Chelsea were surprisingly beaten at Wembley by Stoke City.
Ossie had a fractious relationship with Blues boss Dave Sexton, and, following a training ground bust-up in January 1974, he was transfer-listed, eventually moving to Southampton for a club record £275,000.
He returned to the Bridge in 1978, staying just long enough to knock his Chelsea goals tally up to 150, a figure surpassed at the time only by his former teammate Bobby Tambling.
11. Didier Drogba
341 appearances, 157 goals (2004-12)
Voted Chelsea’s greatest-ever player by the fans in a 2012 poll in the club’s official magazine, Didier Drogba was the Blues’ go-to man for every big occasion.
The Ivorian striker had a simply incredible goalscoring record in major finals, finding the net in no fewer than four FA Cup Finals, three League Cup Finals and, of course, the 2012 Champions League Final, when his soaring header saved Chelsea from defeat against Bayern Munich. He then drilled home the decisive penalty in the shootout to write himself into Blues folklore for ever.
Signed from Marseille in 2004 for a then club-record £24 million, the muscular Drogba was a one-man forward line who could batter the tightest of opposition defences into submission virtually on his own. Superb in the air and capable of shooting powerfully with either foot, his one weakness was his volatile temperament, which saw him receive a number of red cards, most notably in the 2008 Champions League Final in Moscow.
However, Chelsea fans were prepared to forgive his occasional spats with referees, such was his importance to the team throughout his eight years at the club. A true Blues legend, Drogba moved on to Shanghai Shenhua last summer and now plays for Galatasaray.
12. The Substitutes' Bench
Seven subs are allowed on the bench in the Premier League, so I'm going to claim my full entitlement for my Greatest Chelsea XI. Here they are:
12. Dan Petrescu (208 appearances, 23 goals, 1995-2000)
An intelligent, technically skilled right-back or right-sided midfielder, "Super Dan" arrived at the Bridge from Sheffield Wednesday and proved to be a key component of the exciting Chelsea side of the late 1990s. He would be a useful option from the bench, especially if Ron “Chopper” Harris looked in danger of picking up a red card!
13. Peter Bonetti (729 appearances, 1960-79)
Signed by Chelsea after his mother wrote in to the club requesting a trial, Peter Bonetti gave the Blues sterling service over two decades. An agile goalkeeper who specialized in making spectacular saves, he was dubbed “The Cat” by his teammates, and no nickname was more appropriate. The first winner of the Chelsea Player of the Year award in 1967, he won three major trophies with the Blues before retiring in 1979.
14. Claude Makelele (217 appearances, 2 goals, 2003-08)
The French international defensive midfielder was signed from Real Madrid by Claudio Ranieri in 2003, but he really came into his own under “The Tinkerman’s” successor, Jose Mourinho. Makelele’s tackling ability and game-reading skills saw his name become synonymous with the holding midfield role, and some would argue that, even five years after he moved to Paris St Germain, he has never properly been replaced at the Bridge.
15. Charlie Cooke (373 appearances, 30 goals, 1966-72 and 1974-78)
Signed from Dundee in 1966, Charlie Cooke was a wonderfully talented winger who could bamboozle defenders with his deft ball skills. In two spells at the Bridge, he won the FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup before moving to the USA in 1978.
16. Arjen Robben (106 appearances, 19 goals, 2004-07)
A left-winger with a deadly turn of pace, Arjen Robben was a star of the Chelsea team that won back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006. A string of niggling injuries restricted his appearances for the Blues, but when he was fully fit and on-form, he could be virtually unplayable. In 2007, he was sold to Real Madrid for a Chelsea club-record £24 million.
17. Kerry Dixon (420 appearances, 193 goals, 1983-92)
Signed from Reading in 1983 for a bargain £175,000, Kerry Dixon was an instant hit at the Bridge, scoring 34 goals in his first season as Chelsea stormed to the old Second Division championship. Fast, strong, powerful in the air and possessing a fearsome shot in both feet, Dixon went on to score 193 goals for the Blues, a figure only surpassed by Bobby Tambling and Frank Lampard.
18. Jimmy Greaves (169 appearances, 132 goals, 1957-61)
A teenage prodigy, Jimmy Greaves scored an incredible 132 goals for the Blues in just four seasons at the Bridge before he moved on to AC Milan. His impressive tally included an incredible 13 hat-tricks, a club record. In the unlikely event that this Chelsea side desperately needs a goal in the second half, Greavsie would be an ideal “super sub.”
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