Following Roman Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea FC, the Blues have spent quite a bit of their time shopping in France with more than a little success. TheHardTackle takes a look at the Londoners’ top 5 Ligue 1 imports since 2003.
It would be a massive understatement to say that the signings Chelsea FC have made from the French top flight in the Roman era have been successful. Not only have the Blues made some of their smartest buys from Ligue 1, but have in fact signed players that will go down as some of the greatest in the club’s history.
The Blues’ deadline day signing of Papy Djilobodji from FC Nantes had supporters understandably nonplussed, but they would do well to remember that with one notable, pint-sized exception, the hugely successful signings the club have made from Ligue 1 have not necessarily been players that were part of mainstream football conversation at the time they moved to Stamford Bridge.
Of course, it is fairly unlikely that the Senegalese will have anywhere near the same level of success as those imports from France that have gone before him. However, given their club’s demonstrably superb Ligue 1 scouting network, Chelsea FC fans might want to reserve any judgements until after he has had the opportunity to showcase his talents.
Including players in the club’s past and those very much still present, here are the top 5 Chelsea FC signings from the French top division in the Roman era:
5. C sar Azpilicueta (Olympique de Marseille)
Marseille in particular have provided Chelsea FC with some rough diamonds in the past decade or so, and Spanish full-back C sar Azpilicueta is certainly one of them. Signed for a mere A?7 million in 2012 from the Ligue 1 side, the Spain international has gone on to establish himself as a regular in the Blues’ first-team, and is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the English Premier League.
In little more than three years at Stamford Bridge, Azpilicueta has already racked up 136 official appearances for Chelsea FC and has become a massive favourite with the Blues’ faithful. Lovingly given the moniker of ‘Dave’ due to his difficult-to-pronounce surname, the Spaniard has adapted brilliantly to a new position at left-back under returning manager Jos Mourinho and has made that position his own — seeing off competition from the likes of Ashley Cole and Filipe Lu s.
Rafael Ben tez was never the most popular figure during his spell as interim manager of the club, but he deserves credit for successfully bedding in Azpilicueta into the English game. The Real Madrid manager moved Serbian Branislav Ivanovi to the centre of the defence and played the Spaniard at right-back, with the former Marseille man going on to make 48 appearances in his debut season.
The shy, unassuming defender has already tasted success with Chelsea FC, winning the Europa League, the Capital One Cup and the English Premier League, as well as individual honours in the form of the club’s Players’ Player of the Year award in 2014.
The Spaniard’s importance to the team was perhaps best summarised by manager Mourinho when he said: “Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicuetas would probably win the competition (Champions League) because football is not just about pure talent.”
4. Eden Hazard (LOSC Lille)
The Belgian signed for Chelsea FC in the same window as Azpilicueta, but with much more drama and fanfare. At A?32 million, Eden Hazard was the Blues’ second most expensive purchase of all time. In the time he has spent at Stamford Bridge, however, he has already proved to be worth every single penny of that fee.
The 24-year-old is arguably one of the most talented players the club has ever had the fortune of watching every weekend. His skill and trickery, balance and pace, guile and vision have left Chelsea FC supporters on the edge of their seats on more than one occasion. Quite simply, Hazard has developed into a world class footballer.
The Belgium international had a solid debut season in England, being nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award and being named in the Team of the Year. However, there is no doubt that his performances have gone up a notch under the tutelage of Jos Mourinho.
The attacker is now a player that is more willing not only to contribute more defensively, but also to take more responsibility in an attacking sense. His consistency and performances in key moments last season drove Chelsea FC to their first Premier League title and saw him named as the PFA Player of the Year.
Hazard’s . mesmeric genius has already provided Blues’ fans with a lifetime’s worth of memories, but the Belgian still has plenty more to offer. The former Lille star has the potential to be one of the best players in the world, and Mourinho is a manager to finally get him on that Ballon d’Or podium.
Although he has had a rough start to the 2015-2016 season, it would take a brave man to bet against him making a comeback and showing the league once again why he is amongst its very best players.
3. Michael Essien (Olympique Lyonnais)
The Ghanaian powerhouse signed for a sizeable A?24.4 million fee from Lyon in 2005 and quickly established himself as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League under Jos Mourinho.
Nicknamed ‘The Bison’ due to his power and strength in the centre of the park, Essien established himself in Mourinho’s starting XI alongside Frank Lampard and Claude Mak l l as the Blues successfully retained their Premier League crown, winning an incredible 91 points in the process.
Although untimely knee injuries prevented him from truly fulfilling his frightening potential, the Ghanaian was one of the most complete midfielders when at his best. Possessing a fierce shot, not only could he break up play or completely negate an opposition midfielder, but he could also power through the middle with the ball and contribute in an attacking sense.
Essien was not a prolific scorer by any means, but he saved some of his best goals for the biggest occasions. His goal against Arsenal FC in the 2006-07 Premier League season is one of the best the Stamford Bridge crowd is likely to ever see, and his strike against FC Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final in 2009 is not far behind.
In his time at the club, Michael Essien won two Premier League titles, four F.A. Cups, a League Cup as well as the Champions League, while amassing over 250 appearances for the club. There is still a sense of what might have been when one reminisces about the Ghanaian’s Chelsea FC career, but the Bison will always be remembered with the fondest of memories at SW6.
2. Petr A?ech (Stade Rennais)
Although the Czech Republic international’s move to Arsenal FC might sour his memory for some, Petr A?ech will go down as a Chelsea FC legend, and arguably the greatest goalkeeper the club have ever had. Signed for A?7 million from Rennes in 2004, the then 22-year-old displaced Carlo Cudicini and went straight into Jos Mourinho’s starting line-up.
In his d but season in 2004-05, A?ech was part of a defence that conceded just 15 goals all season while keeping 25 clean sheets in the process — all-time Premier League records, both of which stand to this day.
The Czech international went on to become the best keeper in his league during his time at Stamford Bridge, but famously suffered a serious skull injury after a collision with Stephen Hunt in 2006. The memories from that game at the Madejski Stadium have left an indelible mark on the Chelsea FC fans who bore witness to the scenes on the pitch.
A?ech did make a comeback, however, in the now-iconic headgear that he has worn ever since. His best seasons at the club — in terms of results — came after the injury, with the Czech international one of the most crucial players in the Blues’ historic Champions League win in Munich in 2012.
The 33-year-old made an incredible 486 appearances for Chelsea FC, winning four Premier League titles, four F.A. Cups, three League Cups, the Europa League and the UEFA Champions League as well as innumerable individual accolades.
Although the Blues now have a keeper in Belgian Thibaut Courtois who is just as talented as their former No 1, if not more so, he will do well to achieve half of what Petr A?ech has with the club. Quite simply, A?ech is up there with the club’s greatest ever players, and by extension, is one of the best signings Chelsea FC have ever made.
1. Didier Drogba (Olympique de Marseille)
Didier Drogba’s connection with Chelsea FC transcends football. The bond between him and the club is almost spiritual in nature, their destinies irreversibly intertwined. For the rise of Didier Drogba mirrored the rise of Chelsea Football Club, from a reasonably reputable entity to one of the biggest names in world football.
Signed from Marseille by Jos Mourinho in 2004 for A?24 million, the Ivory Coast international went on to become one of the greatest strikers of the Premier League era, and unquestionably the greatest in Chelsea’s history.
Although not as prolific a goalscorer as some others, Drogba was one of the most complete strikers in the league at his peak. Apart from his imposing physicality which he used to bully defenders, the Ivorian was a lethal finisher with a superb first touch, and was extremely good in the air. In simple terms, a peak Drogba was nearly unplayable.
His greatest strength, however, was his mental strength and his ability to turn up when his team most needed him. His unparalleled record in cup finals — particularly at Wembley — as well as his goals against some of the best sides domestically and in Europe helped Chelsea FC win matches they had no business winning.
However, the moment Didier Drogba will always be remembered for is arguably the greatest moment in the history of the club. A hugely unfancied Chelsea FC team had got themselves back in the Champions League final thanks to a late Drogba header from a corner, and had the opportunity — for the second time in 5 years — to win their Holy Grail with one kick of the football. Up stepped Drogba. The result was never in doubt.
It is that moment that has immortalised Didier Drogba more than any other. His career with the Stamford Bridge outfit spans 381 games and includes four Premier League titles — the last of which he won after returning to the club for a one-year spell — four F.A. Cups, three League Cups and the Champions League.
Like Petr A?ech, Didier Drogba will go down as one of the club’s greatest ever players, and is arguably the best player the club have ever signed from a foreign league.
Chelsea FC fans clearly have a lot to thank Ligue 1 for, and with the French top division continuing to be a breeding ground for talents such as Blues youngster Kurt Zouma, there will likely be more additions to this list in the coming years.