Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has stated his intention to remain in West London for as long as the club will have him—nothing but sweet music to the ears of Chelsea supporters. He's been tasked with changing the philosophy of the past, which is slightly ironic considering Chelsea's past was in large part his doing.
The spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba was the catalyst for much silverware, as Chelsea's trophy cabinet can attest. The quartet were arguably the four best players at their respective positions over the past decade in the Premier League, and Mourinho was the key engineer behind their success.
For the old spine of Terry, Lampard, Cech and Drogba, there are two like-for-like players on Chelsea's roster—it just so happens they're currently on loan.
Cech reached the dreaded age of 30 nearly two years ago, but he hasn't shown too many signs of slowing down. Needing 20 more clean sheets to tie the Premier League record, his credentials as Chelsea's first-choice goalkeeper cannot be challenged. Still, living in what one can only imagine is a luxurious West London residence, Chelsea's No. 1 should be feeling some heat by way of Madrid.
Purchased from Belgian side Genk in 2011 for £7 million, Thibaut Courtois' value has grown exponentially during his spell at Atletico Madrid, seeing him transform into the world's most wanted young goalkeeper. If any piece of the Chelsea spine is to be quickly replaced, the goalkeeper vertebra looks the easiest to swap.
The aerial prowess and the clinical nature of Drogba ruled Stamford Bridge for eight seasons. One hundred Premier League goals, 34 European goals and nine goals in nine cup finals—the Ivorian is simply a legend. Legends cannot be replaced (ask David Moyes), but sometimes people have to accept the next guy won't be as good and move on.
Romelu Lukaku would seem a like-for-like replacement, but it's a gargantuan task to ask from any player. The Belgian striker is talented, but there is worry the squad's profile won't allow his particular skill set to be fully realised. The same style that Drogba mastered, and Lukaku is honing, is what Mourinho is attempting to phase out.
The likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar are more useful passing the ball on the carpet rather than knocking it forward in hope. If Lukaku wishes to crack the Chelsea squad and become a part of the new spine, he'll have to adapt slightly by being a willing runner.
Terry and Lampard are English to the core; their loyalty to the club seems as strong as any, and you cannot see them playing in another shirt. For Chelsea Football Club, there aren't any replacements for the duo on our planet.
Are there better players out there? Of course.
Are there more meaningful players? No.
Terry cannot be called the consummate professional (for reasons unbecoming to type), but he is the consummate English central defender. His reign as Chelsea captain has been the most fruitful period in Chelsea history.
Trophies came with the influx of cash from owner Roman Abramovich but so did the pressure to win. Leading teams expected to win isn’t easy, and the Chelsea man from his youth days is a major contributor to the West London outfit's winning ways.
David Luiz isn’t stretched for talent, but managers, pundits and fans alike have lamented his mental acuity. Despite the Brazilian's tendency to leave gaps in central defense, his prowess in the double pivot should make him a part of the team looking forward—but not the spine of a Mourinho side.
Gary Cahill has seemingly become Terry’s protege, but is he the world-class defender the likes of the former England captain—it’s hard to say for certain. Mourinho has a knack for getting the best out of his players. If the Portuguese can squeeze every drop of talent from Cahill, he just might fit the bill.
The hardest link in the chain to replace is Lampard. Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer (208), via Chelsea's official site, and the Premier League’s all-time goal scorer from midfield (168), via Transfermarkt, is the embodiment of class. Asking any player to fill the void left by Lampard is an impossible task. The midfield link will have to be replaced by committee.
Hazard, Oscar and Willian are all under the age of 26 and look a formidable trio for years to come. If the lot of them score 210-plus goals for the club (they’re currently at 46)—Mourinho will certainly have many trophies to lift.
The rip on Chelsea is: “they have no history.” While that’s not exactly true, one could make the argument: it’s hard to have “history” when you’re in the midst of making it.
Living up to the legacy of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba is going to be arduous for any current or prospective Chelsea players. The quartet deserves a statue in front of Stamford Bridge, but teams don’t just end—they evolve.
The next generation now has a standard to meet, and it’s one they should hope to surpass. Under the guidance of their aging stars and the irrepressible Mourinho, you shouldn’t put it past them.