Chelsea Transfers: Gianfranco Zola and the Top 10 Foreign Imports at the Bridge
Chelsea FC has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, and its success is a direct result of Zola's phenomenal ability. However, Abromovich has sustained Chelsea's success by investing in superb talents from home and abroad.
This slideshow ranks Chelsea's best foreign players over the past decade based on potential quality and actual impact on the squad.
10. Eidur Gudjohnsen
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The Icelandic striker has been a prolific goal scorer during his six seasons at Chelsea. Gudjohnsen scored nearly 80 goals for the London club from 2000-2006, and his goal-scoring ability played an important part in Chelsea's rise to one of the best clubs in the world.
Had Gudjohnsen not scored so many goals during that time, it would have been difficult for Chelsea to qualify for the Champions League, and Abromovich would not have purchased the club in 2003. Gudjohnsen was so important to Chelsea's rise to fame that it would be unjust for his ability and effort to go unnoticed.
9. Jose Mourinho
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Although this is kind of cheating, Mourinho had such a dramatic impact on Chelsea's story when he became manager in 2004. The Portuguese tactician only lasted for three full seasons, but Chelsea rose exponentially in prominence during his time there, and if he had managed to pull off a Champions League victory while in London, he would probably still be the manager there.
Mourinho has gone on to prove that his firing was a horrible mistake. Abromovich knows this too, and the proof is in his appointment of Andre Villas-Boas in 2011. AVB is often seen as Mourinho's protege, and the fact that Abromovich spent €15 million on him proves how costly of a mistake firing Mourinho was.
Regardless, Mourinho's work at Chelsea put the club on the map. He developed a squad that has since been in contention for domestic and European honors year after year.
8. Roberto Di Matteo
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The Swiss-Italian midfielder gave Chelsea his all between 1996-2002, his six years with the club. Ruud Gullit snatched up Di Matteo from Lazio, and it proved to be a shrewd purchase. Di Matteo was a wonderful passer because of his superb talent and vision, but he was also just a lovable player.
Chelsea fans will always have a place in their hearts for Di Matteo, and it is a shame his wonderful career basically ended in 2000 when he sustained a horrible leg break. He could never get back to full health, but his amazing ability did not go unnoticed before his injury.
7. Michael Essien
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If I were to let my bias creep in, I would put Essien toward the top of this list. He has to be one of the most talented midfielders to ever play for Chelsea. Essien has won many accolades, but his passing ability combined with his defensive talents make him one of the most complete midfielders of the last decade.
Unfortunately, Essien has sustained some serious injuries during his time at Chelsea that have forced him to sit on the sidelines for extended periods (two of his serious injuries came while playing for Ghana). His contributions to Chelsea are still worthy of him being one of the best foreign players ever to play for the club, though.
6. Petr Cech
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The giant Czech goalkeeper has been one constant for Chelsea since 2004. Along with Drogba, Lampard, and Terry, Cech has been essential to Chelsea's squad since Abromovich purchased the club.
Cech has been nothing but superb during his time at Chelsea. He came in when Chelsea already had Carlo Cudicini, one of the best goalkeepers in the country, but Cech's ability and Cudicini's lingering wrist injury led to Cech taking the job full time.
Even though Cech has sustained a few serious head injuries, he has carried on and continues to impress.
5. Marcel Desaily
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The Ghanaian-born French defender already established himself as an amazing player before moving to Chelsea in 1998. Desaily had already won two Champions League trophies with Marseille and AC Milan before his move to Chelsea. He continued to play at the top level with Chelsea for six seasons before leaving the club in 2004.
Desaily's defensive partner, Franck Leboeuf, could easily be in this list as well, because without either of these two, Chelsea would have struggled. I just chose Desaily over Leboeuf because he played later and had a greater influence on Chelsea's rise to fame in the early 2000s.
4. Claude Makelele
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Let me just say that when you have a position named after you, then you're pretty good.
The Congolese-born (then Zaire) French footballer played as a defensive midfielder, and the "Makelele role" pays homage to how great he was.
Makelele did not get much of the acclaim he deserved while playing for Madrid because of the flashy players surrounding him. He was one of the essential players for the squad though, and after he left for Chelsea in 2003, Madrid really suffered.
Makelele became one the integral players for Chelsea over the next five seasons before moving on to finish his career in Paris.
3. Ricardo Carvalho
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The Portuguese defender has been rock solid for Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid over his illustrious career. Riccy and Terry formed an amazing defensive pair while they played together at Chelsea from 2004-2010. Carvalho followed Mourinho from Porto to Chelsea in 2004, and he later met up with him at Real Madrid in 2010.
Although Chelsea paid a lot of money for Carvalho in 2004, he certainly lived up to his nearly €30 million price tag; Chelsea won back-to-back Premier League titles in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge.
Carvalho is not especially tall nor especially fast, but his defensive positioning and tackling ability easily allow him to make up for his lack of physical dominance.
2. Didier Drogba
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Love him or hate him, Drogba is a truly amazing striker.
The Ivory Coast international joined Chelsea in 2004, and he has since racked up 95 goals in the Premier League alone. In total, Drogba has tallied 144 goals for Chelsea. Chelsea paid £24 million for him, but this figure looks tiny compared to what he has provided for them.
Drogba does not really have any weaknesses as a striker. He has great aerial ability and good movement off the ball, but he is known for his amazing ball-striking. Even finishing last season at 32 years old, Drogba still scored 37 goals in all competitions.
1. Gianfranco Zola
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Zola is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, Chelsea player ever.
The Italian is also considered one of the best foreign players ever to play in the Premier League.
Zola joined Chelsea from Parma in 1996 and spent seven very successful years in London. He was exceptionally talented and a natural leader, but Zola also performed at the top level from the moment he stepped foot in England.
Unlike many players, Zola took virtually no time to adjust to the Premier League. He became the talisman for a Chelsea side on the rise, and when he decided it was time to return home to Italy in 2003, he left Chelsea in a place it had never been: qualifying for the Champions League.