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Assessing Chelsea’s Chances for the New Season

Assessing Chelsea’s Chances for the New Season

Following the dispiriting gloom of the Benitez era, the return of the prodigal One seems to have brought with it an optimism long missed around Stamford Bridge. Pre-season results have been mostly encouraging, with a returning batch of loaned youngsters adding competition and depth to last season’s stretched squad. Bookies have installed the club as favourites for the title in a season where managerial upheaval has made unknown quantities of the nation’s top three clubs.

Glancing over Chelsea’s squad offers many reasons to be cheerful. Whilst the press continues to push the idea of a weak strikeforce, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba are both established Premier League goalscorers capable of keeping defenders busy while the three amigos (Mata, Hazard and Oscar, for those who haven’t been paying attention) cut through the gaps with impunity. True, Lukaku’s decision making and first touch remain inconsistent and Ba has yet to gel with his teammates, but both represent a significant improvement over last season’s reliance on the tragic Fernando Torres, whose interminable presence remains a dark cloud on otherwise blue skies.

While Rooney remains a target, it’s difficult to fathom exactly what he’d be expected to bring to the club other than inconsistency, injury problems and an unjustified abundance of potato-headed narcissism. For the three months of good form that United have been able to get out of him most seasons – when he’s admittedly a force to be reckoned with – his habit of dropping deep only seems likely to get in Mata and Hazard’s way. Lukaku and Ba’s ability to drag defenders out of position seems better suited to a team whose greatest assets work best in the gap between midfield and attack.

Fortunately, it seems as though United will hold firm against selling to a title rival, leading to speculation that Mourinho’s attention has turned to one of his former lieutenants, Samuel Eto’o. While not offering the muscularity which Mourinho tends to favour in his front men, his direct approach could work excellently either opening up space for Hazard and Oscar or getting on the end of Mata’s precision passes. It remains to be seen whether he can recapture the spectacular form which convinced Anzhi to make him the best paid player in the world two years ago, but the pedigree and intelligence are certainly there. At 32, he’d be a short term option at best, but that’s no bad thing when Lukaku will need a year or two more to come into his prime. Another interesting option might have been the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were it not for the bad blood between he and Mourinho. He’s reportedly looking to leave PSG in the wake of Cavani’s arrival and despite his well-known attitude problems, remains a world class talent and among Europe’s most fearsome front men. He would certainly represent a subtantial upgrade on our existing options, at least until storming off a year later because Ashley Cole was looking at him funny or something.

One area where Chelsea have no need of further reinforcement is attacking midfield, with Kevin De Bruyne’s pre-season form suggesting he has an excellent chance of breaking up the formidable trio of Oscar, Mata and Hazard. His outstanding crossing – with a success rate last season of roughly one in three – should prove invaluable in planting the ball in the areas where Lukaku and Ba operate best, while his precision with through balls and long shots make him a viable alternative to Mata or Oscar. More difficult to assess is Andre Schurrle, whose pre-season form backed up reports from Germany of his being a player capable of brilliance but marred by inconsistency. His volleyed finish against Milan was exquisite, but disguised an otherwise tepid performance.

The talent is there and his strength and height will prove useful occupying the Premier League’s more robust defenders, but as with Victor Moses, it’s difficult right now to see him as anything other than a talented squad player. Still, pre-season is no time to make definitive judgments, and he’s got all the attributes to succeed if he can deploy them intelligently and consistently.

A less heralded but perhaps more important signing could be Marco van Ginkel, who looks the sort of energetic all-rounder so valuable in the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations likely to be José’s preserve this season. While still a frisky twenty years of age, his performances in pre-season hinted at the natural composure and tireless ground-covering of a budding midfield general. He has much of the young Steven Gerrard about him, albeit with greater positional sense and discipline. Whether he’s ready to take the big step up from the Dutch Eredivisie to the Premier League remains unknown, but he was one of few bright spots in the club’s otherwise meek surrender against Real Madrid last week.

His chances are improved by Chelsea otherwise having a compatibility issue among their deeper midfielders. Lampard remains the club’s most natural fit for the role, with his passing and shooting as exact as ever and positional awareness more than making up for ordinary defensive skills, but at thirty-five, his lack of pace opens up a vulnerability to counter-attacks. Ramires’ speed would seem to nullify that weakness, but his athleticism is more useful driving the play forward. Discipline is not an area where he excels and the gaps left in his wake can be exploited by creative opponents.

His poor form last season is another cause for concern, even though there have been clear signs of improvement during this year’s pre-season. Mikel remains Chelsea’s only truly defensive midfield option, but he’s adequate rather than excellent and, as with Lampard, betrayed by a lack of pace. Pairing the two together risks the team being steamrollered on the counter, as Atletico Madrid exploited to great effect in last year’s Super Cup. He and Ramires offer plenty of industry, but little creativity. While a defensive midfielder is needed at Chelsea, his incompatibility with potential partners makes it no surprise to see him linked with a transfer away. As for Essien, those legs just don’t move like they used to and few are under any illusions that his presence in the squad is down to anything more than his being a Mourinho favourite. He’s competent enough, but sadly looking well past his sell-by date.

The situation in defence is not dissimilar, in that the talent is evident but fitting it together remains a puzzle. Terry’s commanding presence is invaluable, yet all that fighting through the pain as a young man is increasingly restricting his ability to keep up with trickier opponents. Cahill is outstanding on the intercept but tends to watch the ball more than his man, while David Luiz’s natural gifts are obvious, but his love of bombing forward and diving into challenges has proven disastrous in the past. If he can improve his awareness and decision making, he’ll be one of the league’s best defenders. As it stands, his outrageous skills too often prove a liability, especially when paired with the occasionally inattentive Cahill or Branislav Ivanovic.

At full-back, Ivanovic and Cesar ‘Dave’ Azpilicueta offer two different sets of skills on the right. All-Bran’s strength, aerial threat and defensive discipline give him the edge against more direct wingers, while Azpilicueta allies decent defensive skills with greater speed and dribbling. Azpilicueta is the better rounded of the two, with Ivanovic having a tendency to let mistakes creep into his game and still can’t pass to save his life, but their combined versatility should prove a major asset if Mourinho can use them correctly. On the left, Cole and Bertrand are more naturally similar, but in the case of such well-balanced talents, that’s hardly a bad thing. Cole isn’t the dynamo he once was, but remains one of the league’s finest left-backs.

Bertrand got no end of stick for his struggles against Darijo Srna of Shakhtar Donetsk last season, but he has otherwise shown himself an exceptionally capable understudy. His defensive skills are still a smidgen unrefined, but until Luke Shaw reaches maturity, he’s the best young English left back around and certainly has the potential to hold down the position at the club, and possibly his country, in years to come.

While Petr Cech remains uncontested as first choice goalkeeper, the addition of Mark Schwarzer was a shrewd acquisition in firming up the back-up position so regularly butter-finger’d by Ross Turnbull and the ever aptly named Hilario. He may have blundered against Roma in our final pre-season friendly, but five strong years as Fulham’s first choice means, for the first time in years, there will be no reason to panic should Petr Cech’s injury record gain a fresh entry. The young Jamal Blackman looks a solid if inexperienced third choice who gained a great deal from playing matches in packed out stadia during pre-season. As might be expected of a young keeper, his positioning is not always what it should be, but an outstanding tip-over in the Roma game demonstrated his sharp reflexes.

There’s no question that Mourinho has an exceptional pool of talent to choose from for the season ahead, but the main concern is whether that talent can be brought together as a fully functioning team. During his first spell at the club, Mourinho’s success was built around a spine of Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Makelele, Lampard, Essien, Robben, Duff and Drogba, all at or approaching their peak. While the current squad has plenty of talented individuals, they have yet to cohere in the way that made the 04/05 and 05/06 teams so formidable. Back under Mourinho’s guidance, we’ve as good a chance as ever of challenging for the title, particularly with Man Utd and Arsenal struggling to add to squads with more serious weaknesses than ours (Moyes, for all his talent, is unlikely to inspire the same never-say-die spirit which held Ferguson’s United on track last year), but should Pellegrini succeed in bringing stability to Man City, the strength and depth of their expensively-assembled squad must make them favourites for the top.

Nevertheless, while City have the edge in the short term, Chelsea are outstandingly positioned to dominate once Financial Fair Play has (theoretically, at least) restricted the blue Mancunians’ spending power. Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku represent only the first wave of a superbly implemented strategy to cherry-pick Europe’s outstanding talents and give them a few years on loan to prepare them for future first team duties. Thibault Courtois’ experience at Atletico will allow us to make a like-for-like swap of world-class goalkeepers whenever Petr Cech decides to hang up his gloves or move on to pastures new.

Tomas Kalas and Kenneth Omeruo have both been linked with first team involvement this season, but perhaps still need testing in a more challenging environment than the Eredivisie. Nathan Aké took his limited chances well last year, one of the few positive notes of Benitez’s reign, while our pre-season tour of Asia allowed Bertrand Traore to showcase why the club are so desperate to finally make his signing official. He scored his first international goal for Burkina Faso against Morocco on Wednesday, further reinforcing the suspicion that it won’t be long before he’s given his chance to shine in Blue. Patrick van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta look likely to ply their trade elsewhere, but are still a significantly higher standard of player than the reserves offered Mourinho during his first tenure. Anyone remember Nuno Morais? Does Nuno Morais even remember Nuno Morais?

With the manager already expressing his confidence in Chalobah, there’s even a strong contingent of British talent raring to go. Josh McEachran needs a strong season of Premier League football to re-establish himself in the club’s thinking, but his ability to turn defence into attack with a single pass is a talent which could definitely find a home in our squad once the weaker areas of his game (concentration, stamina) are strengthened. Looking further forward, Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Islam Feruz (attitude issues notwithstanding) and Alex Kiwomya must surely be considered among Britain’s most promising youngsters, with Patrick Bamford and Todd Kane not far behind. Jeremie Boga and Wallace, recently signed on loan by Internazionale, should offer future generations some foreign flair, and it will be interesting to see if new signings Cristian Cuevas and Stipe Perica can reach the high standards expected of them.

Chelsea may not be the finished article quite yet, but with José Mourinho back at the helm and a wealth of young talent ready to take their place in starting elevens present and future, never have fans had so many reasons to look forward to a Blue Tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this article, you can contact or follow me on Twitter @xandermarkham.

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First Team Pre-Season Minutes Played

First Team Pre-Season Minutes Played

With the 2013-14 pre-season now in the books, we can take a look at how Jose Mourinho used the players available to him ahead of the big kick-off against Hull City (Tigers?) next weekend.

Seven games across nearly 25,000 miles of travel saw in excess of thirty players turn out in what was undoubtedly the largest scale summer schedule the club has ever embarked upon. Some, like Eden Hazard and Ramires, were utilised extensively with injuries and unavailability in their respective positions, but by and large most of the first team squad saw sufficient time to be considered ready to undergo the rigours of a 60+ game season.

Player Minutes Played
Gary Cahill 465
Ramires 448
Eden Hazard 433
John Terry 421
Branislav Ivanovic 414
Marco Van Ginkel 408
Ashley Cole 342
Victor Moses 315
Ryan Bertrand 288
Michael Essien 287
Petr Cech 270
Romelu Lukaku 256
Demba Ba 255
Kevin De Bruyne 245
Mark Schwarzer 225
Andre Schurrle 187
Oscar 180
Fernando Torres 149
Cesar Azpilicueta 143
Jamal Blackman 135
Wallace 135
Tomas Kalas 135
Nathaniel Chalobah 135
John Obi Mikel 116
Bertrand Traore 101
Lucas Piazon 99
Juan Mata 90
Frank Lampard 90
David Luiz 75
Josh McEachran 54
Islam Feruz 44

(All numbers are general and do not include additional time added on at the end of each half)

Whilst it’s nigh-on impossible to predict the eleven names Mourinho will send out at Stamford Bridge next Sunday, it stands to reason to consider that he might seek to go with a very similar line-up to the one that took on Real Madrid in Miami a few days ago. That was

Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Van Ginkel, Lampard, Oscar, Hazard, Lukaku

It was Lampard’s first 45 minutes of an injury-hit few weeks though, and with Kevin De Bruyne both impressive and back to full fitness (and relieving him in the second half at Sun Life Stadium), he could easily come in for Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer. The rest of that starting group all rank highly in minutes totalled in Asia and the United States, with the exception of Oscar, who arrived belatedly following Confederations Cup duty. He has looked sharper and livelier than Juan Mata, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Fernando Torres and John Obi Mikel, who have each been eased back into things and will probably require a few more weeks until they’re ready for regular duty.

The plans will have been drawn up in great detail aimed not only at preparing as many players as possible to be ready for mid-August, but also to be in a position to get as close to ‘peak’ fitness by the hectic Christmas period. In recent years it has proven to be a troublesome time for the club, but in Mourinho’s first spell in charge it was the time of year when the Blues kicked on and turned the screw on their title rivals.

Whatever the merits of such a travel-heavy itinerary, for the first time in a while, those who are going to be called upon early and often have had an adequate build-up. Let the (real) games begin.

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Rooney or Not Rooney – That Is The Question

Rooney or Not Rooney – That Is The Question

This morning saw an outbreak of consternation in the Twittersphere over reports that Chelsea had reportedly made a bid of £10 Million plus a player believed to be either David Luiz or Juan Mata in exchange for Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney. However, sanity was rapidly restored once everyone realised that it was highly unlikely that Chelsea would swap any player who is young, talented, integral part of the team such as the aforementioned for an injury prone 27 year old of suspect temperament and attitude. Rumours of Chelsea FC’s interest in the England  striker have been mounting over the past couple of months, particularly since the player allegedly told the Old Trafford side’s then manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, during a meeting in April that he wanted to leave the club.

Speculation was heightened at lunchtime, though, when Chelsea confirmed that a bid had been made for Rooney, but no player exchange was offered. Whilst the club have refused to state how much the bid was, estimates in the media have ranged from £10 to £15 million.

And during the course of the day, I’ve come to the conclusion that might not be such a bad piece of business. As said, Rooney has had injury problems over the past few seasons and looks as likely to become a victim of burn-out as Michael Owen, another one-time teenage prodigy. However, carefully managed, he might fit in very well at Chelsea.No-one in their right minds (not even Chelsea, with their spectacular track record of paying over the odds for strikers) would pay in excess of £30 million for Rooney. But £20 Million? An English centre-forward, in a World Cup year, with all the implications of Financial Fair Play and what’s more, a shirt-shifter, might turn out to be as big a steal as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink turned out to be in 2001.

Of course following today’s claim and counter-claim, there’s no doubt that the clubs find themselves in a difficult position. And whoever’s running Manchester United’s PR department just now needs shoeing. Their announcement this afternoon that their CEO, the slightly unfortunately named – well for those of us of a certain age, anyway – Ed Woodward was on his way back to the UK “to carry out urgent transfer business” will just chuck another can of petrol on to a bonfire already blazing way merrily. Whatever happened to conducting your transfer business in private? Given the near secrecy with which Chelsea concluded the deals for Schurrle and van Ginkel earlier in the close season, it genuinely looks as if Manchester United are trying to cash in their chips on Rooney and put our club under pressure to commence serious negotiations. However, one thing is certain. Any possible Rooney to Chelsea deal will be played out right until the end of August. If he signs for Chelsea, there is no way Manchester United will be able to enter a clause saying he can’t play in the game between the sides on August Bank Holiday Monday. And that could be an uncomfortable night for Rooney. Already his family have been the subject of abuse from Twitter trolls. Wherever he ends up, he will want to leave Manchester on the best of terms.

There’s one other thing to consider from Chelsea’s point of view. If Rooney joins us, it will mark a seismic shift in the balance of power in English football. Yes, we have previously signed players from Old Trafford. But they have tended to be entering either the Autumn of their careers (Veron and Hughes), if not Winter (Paul Parker). For Chelsea to sign Rooney, who is arguably at the height of his career, will mark a new stage in how Chelsea are perceived. Already regarded in Europe as a Super Club, this could give the club a psychological boost at home in luring one of England’s leading players away from Manchester United. Because any Chelsea fan who is being honest with themselves knows that Manchester United have been England’s pre-eminent club for a generation now. But with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and the game of managerial musical chairs being played at the Premier League’s top clubs this Summer, there is a genuine feeling of a new era beginning. Football tends to be cyclical, and the last time Manchester United replaced an iconic Scottish manager of long tenure they were relegated within five years. That’s unlikely to happen this time round, but they could very well find themselves following the Liverpool model.

The final word currently rests with Jose Mourinho. When asked at the post-match press conference following our first pre-season friendly earlier today whether it was Rooney or bust, he simply answered “Yes”. This tells you all you need to know about how serious Chelsea are this time.

As usual you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67

 

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Won’t Somebody Think of The Kids?

Won’t Somebody Think of The Kids?

The challenge of becoming a professional footballer is fraught with peril. The dream of becoming a first team player with a top-flight side is even more precarious. Every year children as young as eight join club academies and work their way up through the age levels until a decision has to be made by academy staff as to whether they will make it to the 16+ group – in other words, those deemed talented enough to have a shot at a career.

I suppose training to become a professional footballer is like training for any specialised profession. If you want to become an actor, or a vet, or a doctor, you have to undertake specific training. Not many of our leading stars of stage and screen get where they are by busking it. Equally, if you ask anyone you know what they wanted to be when they were a nipper, it’s likely that very few will have ended up in the job they dreamed of doing when a child.

There’s a litany of players who have been touted as ‘the next big thing’. I’ve always found the Wayne Harrison story poignant as he is roughly the same age as I am. For those who are too young, or don’t remember, in March 1985 despite having played only two first team games for Oldham Athletic, Harrison, aged just 17, signed for Liverpool for £250,000; a record at the time for a teenager.

Liverpool loaned him straight back to Oldham and he played a further five games that season. When he joined Liverpool at the start of the 85-86 season, he was brought through the reserves and was on the verge of making the first team, when he suffered the first of a series of accidents and injuries which led to his retirement at the age of just 22, having endured no fewer than 23 football-related operations. He now earns a living as a driver for a brewery.

At the start of the Noughties, any use of the word ‘prodigy’ in connection with football would usually be followed with the name ‘Freddy Adu’. Born in Ghana in 1989, he moved to the United States, aged 8, with his family and became a US citizen. Soon after moving to the States, he was discovered by a local coach near the family home in Maryland, and began playing against boys several years older than him. At the age of 10, his mother allegedly turned down a six-figure offer from Inter Milan after he was spotted by a number of Italian clubs. At 14 he became the youngest American sportsman for over 100 years to sign a professional contract when he joined DC United of the MLS, was hailed as “the new Pele” and subsequently signed a sponsorship deal with Nike.

And after that ….. pffft. In 2006 he had a fortnight’s loan which Manchester United which came to nothing following his failure to gain a work permit, joined Benfica in 2007, had a season on loan at Monaco in 2008-2009, a loan deal with Greek side Aris in 2010, moved to Caykur Riezspor in 2011, returned to the MLS with Philadelphia Union later that year and this very week joined Bahia of Brazil.

With Adu it’s not difficult to describe the standard of football he’s played at as out of proportion to the hype generated. However, you wonder how much of the hype was driven by a US football system desperate to find its own home-grown hero in the years following the World Cup and in the genesis of the MLS, combined with the undoubted marketing push of Nike. Whilst it would be harsh to describe Adu at the age of 22 as not so much a has-been but a never-was, there is a real danger that he will never fully develop into anything other than a football nomad.

Meanwhile, at Chelsea FC we’ve had a long list of players who looked like the next big thing and never really fulfilled their promise. It seems a bit unfair to list the likes of Jody Morris and Jon Harley in this category as at least they’ve gone on to enjoy professional careers of reasonable longevity, albeit at a lower level.

But a classic case appears to be that of Leon Knight, whose most notable achievements in recent years would appear to be misbehaving on social media, being the originator of a ferocious and very public spat with notorious WAG Danielle Lloyd on Twitter and creator of the ‘Slag Alert Pictures’ hashtag where he encouraged men to post pictures of ex-partners.

The storm of opprobrium led to the Daily Mail not only labelling him a “journeyman footballer”, but adding “failed” to it. The New Statesman went one better, describing him as “ex-footballer and noted misogynist”. It is difficult to believe that Knight was once also described as “the new Pele” (how journalists love this phrase!). He has racked up an impressive (sic) fifteen clubs, if you include loan spells, and is currently without a team, having been released by Glentoran who invoked a clause in his contract in May after posting critical remarks, again on Twitter, on Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.

Since the late 1990s, Chelsea have targeted not only the UK for youth talent, but much of Europe. Sam Dalla Bona and Luca Percassi were two early acquisitions in the Vialli era, both of whom made the first team. Mikkel Forssell was a Finnish international at 17, although he, too, has endured an injury-blighted career. However, it has been in the last ten years since the Abramovich takeover that not only have Chelsea sought the cream of Europe’s youth, but the cream of Europe’s youth have seen the academy as an attractive proposition.

No expense has been spared in trying to create the next John Terry. The supporters love a home-grown player, even if it’s one from abroad. However, no matter how high the hopes for Mbark Boussoufa, Sebastian Kneissl, Franco di Santo, and Miroslav Stoch, none of them have ever quite made it.

Indeed the dangers of the race to unearth the best global talent were exposed by the deal which brought Gael Kakuta to Stamford Bridge. Kakuta’s former club, Lens, claimed that Chelsea had induced the player to breach his contract. FIFA subsequently banned Kakuta for four months, Chelsea were banned from two transfer windows, and swingeing fines were levied. However, on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the punishments were overturned when CAS  ruled that Kakuta’s contract with Lens was invalid and therefore he could not have breached it.

The issue of home-grown players failing to progress is even more vexed, most notably in recent years in the cases of Scott Sinclair and Josh McEachran. Both have been unlucky enough to sustain serious injuries shortly after getting a few first team games, and loan spells at Wigan and Swansea saw Sinclair depart permanently. Whether the same fate befalls McEachran, currently at Middlesbrough, remains to be seen.

The club now seems to run a system whereby talent is identified, signed to prevent another club swooping, and then sending the player out on loan. UK born players seem to tend to join clubs at Championship level, with the remainder farmed out across Europe, notably  highly-rated goalie Thibault Courtois, who is in his second, highly-successful, season at Atlético Madrid.

And there appears to be further light at the end of the tunnel. Ryan Bertrand has emerged over the last 12 months as a fully-fledged member of the first team squad and has a Champions League winner’s medal to prove it. The Chelsea youth team are enjoying a period of unprecedented success.  FA  youth cup winners in 2010 and 2012, the team have again progressed through to the semi-finals this year where they will face Liverpool. The players in the Under-19 classification have made it through to the NextGen semi-finals following impressive displays against Barcelona and Juventus.

Furthermore, the composition of the under-21 and academy teams is interesting; the split between players qualified to play for England and those playing for other nations in the under-21s is 50/50, but in the 26 man academy squad, no fewer than 18 players have received England call-ups.  So are we now reaping the benefit of policies implemented ten years ago? Despite encouraging signs like Nathan Ake’s FA Cup replay appearance against Middlesbrough, how many of them will make the first team?  And there’s another issue.

In the light of Financial Fair Play, are Chelsea supporters willing to put their trust in a crop of youngsters, however talented, who might not win anything for a couple of seasons? Arsenal have tried this route and failed to win anything since 2005. Paul Lambert’s brave attempt at a similar system at Aston Villa this season has the potential to end in disaster.

And, finally, the killer question is this.  The stated aim of the academy on the Chelsea FC website reads To produce home-grown professional footballers capable of competing with Europe’s elite players”. If a high percentage of this generation of young Chelsea players, given the most up to date training facilities and medical care, can’t make it to first team level, does there then come a point at which the club decides that further large-scale investment is an unjustifiable expense?

Of course, if you want the opinions of real experts, you can read them on TheChels.Net courtesy of our very own ChelseaYouth. You can also follow him on Twitter @ChelseaYouth. I’d also strongly recommend the work of Sam Poplett, aka @daspecial_1.  It’s difficult to think too highly of someone who drove all the way from London to Derby for an FA Youth Cup game on a Friday night.

We now turn to the latest news from The Chelsea Supporters Trust. As well as having the usual matchday presence on the cfcuk stall, where would-be Trust members can join up in person, the Working Group will be descending on SW6 en-masse before the Sunderland game as a part of the ongoing membership drive. Not only will they be handing out information leaflets all around the stadium, volunteers will also be visiting local hostelries in order to talk to fans face to face about joining the Trust.

However, if you’re not at the Sunderland game, or any other match, it goes without saying that you can still join the Trust by visiting the website. Membership costs just £5 per year and will entitle you to participate in the forthcoming Members’ Survey which will drive the policies and aspirations of the Trust, as well as enabling you to elect the Trust Board at the AGM which will be held in August.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67.

Posted in All, Features, Players, Spotlight, Youth & Reserves1 Comment

Exodus from Cobham: International Week Preview

Exodus from Cobham: International Week Preview

A busy international double-header is set to be packed into the next ten or so days and, as you might expect of a leading club, Chelsea have more than their fair share of players representing their countries across all age groups.

Here’s a rundown of who’s going to be where.

Senior Internationals

Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard, and Ashley Cole will be a part of the England squad which travels to San Marino and Montenegro for two World Cup Qualifiers.

Petr Cech is in the Czech Republic party for their matches against Denmark and Armenia.

Branislav Ivanovic will once again serve as captain for Serbia as they face off against Croatia and Scotland.

David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar are included in the Brazil squad which faces Italy in one friendly before taking on Russia at Stamford Bridge next Monday. Ramires is, however, reportedly an injury concern.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata
received calls from Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque as the World and European Champions prepare to face Finland and France. Fernando Torres was not selected.

The usual healthy contingent of Blues in the Belgium squad continues as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne will all likely start in at least one of their two dates with Macedonia in the coming days.

Demba Ba will make the long trip to Senegal for a qualifier at home to Angola, whilst John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Kenneth Omeruo will play as African Champions for the first time for Nigeria as they turn their attentions towards Brazil 2014 and a home date with Kenya.

Yossi Benayoun and Israel will face Portugal in a friendly and then Northern Ireland in a World Cup Qualifier later in the week.

Youth Internationals

Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah, who have both been sidelined through minor ailments lately, are in the England Under-21 squad for friendlies against Romania and Austria.

Jeffrey Bruma and Patrick van Aanholt are in the Dutch Under-21 party, Milan Lalkovic is with Slovakia’s, Thorgan Hazard is in Belgium’s, and Islam Feruz receives a second call into Scotland’s highest junior age party. He scored twice on his debut against Portugal last year and will be hoping to add to his tally.

Tomas Kalas is in the Czech Under-21 setup after a fleeting experience in the senior squad, for which is he is yet to debut. He remains on standby to join Cech and friends should he be needed.

Nathan Aké is in the Dutch Under-19 setup, whilst Andreas Christensen has received a maiden call into the same age group for Denmark. Alex Davey continues to develop for Scotland’s Under-19s and will once again join up with them to play Sweden in Ayr.

Lewis Baker was a late addition to the England Under-19 team which takes on Turkey in Telford.

Alex Kiwomya, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina and Charlie Colkett will be on England Under-17 duty as they bid to qualify for this summer’s European Championships in Slovakia. Charly Musonda Jr (Belgium) and Isak Ssewankambo (Sweden) will be doing the same in the coming weeks as well.

Finally, Dominic Solanke is a part of Kenny Swain’s England Under-16 squad travelling to France for the Montaigu Cup.

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Frank Lampard: 200 Not Out

Frank Lampard: 200 Not Out

On June 14, 2001, Chelsea signed the then 22 year old, Frank Lampard. I remember the day quite clearly, as it had been reported on Sky Sports News that we were set to sign a West Ham midfielder and the rumours doing the rounds were that it was indeed Frank that we were buying. In my haste and excitement, I emailed Sky Sports News for them to come back to me quite quickly to indeed confirm that it was Frank we were purchasing.

At the time, I thought that Frank would be a good signing, but I also had the thought that would anybody be able to match Gus Poyet for the amount of goals scored from midfield. At the time, Gus was coming to the end of his Chelsea career and was a firm favourite of mine, until he signed for that North London outfit. 200 goals later and it’s incredible that such a fantastic footballer and a great man is now just three goals away from breaking Bobby Tambling’s all time Chelsea goal-scoring record.

Frank was very humble in coming from East to West London, quotes attributed to him at the time said “Chelsea have sold the club to me.” And “I think that I can take my game on from here and win a lot of medals with the club. Hopefully I can test myself against the best players in Europe and we can contest for trophies” – never a truer word spoken; Frank knew his Chelsea destiny, even then.

I have some fantastic memories of Frank’s goals, as I am sure that we all do: Here are five of my own personal favourites, which may have escaped other people’s memories.

March 8, 2003 versus Arsenal at Highbury FA Cup Round 5 – Chelsea drew 2-2

On this particular day I wasn’t at Highbury, but at Chelsea, in the Shed Bar.

My then ex-girlfriend and I had decided to go to Leicester Square that day, however, knowing that Chelsea were playing, I’d booked for us to stay at the Chelsea hotel for the night. The thing is, she didn’t know that the hotel I’d booked was at Stamford Bridge. We had a decent morning, but time was ticking on and getting nearer to kick off, so I said that we’d better go and check-in at the hotel. On the way to Fulham Broadway, the game had already kicked off, so I was desperate to know the score. Back then with no Twitter, or Facebook, I had to get a text sent to me. With us hardly ever winning at Highbury in those days, I was overjoyed when the text returned saying that JT had scored for us as early as the third minute. By this time I wasn’t particularly interested in the ex, she didn’t like football and she was nagging a bit, so I was walking at a pace to get to the hotel with her dragging behind.

Once checked in at the hotel and sorted it was approaching half time, my thoughts were of the 0-1, but unbeknownst to me, by this time, we were losing 2-1. I then had to explain to the ex that the game was being shown in the bar downstairs and I was going to quickly nip down to see the score.

When I got downstairs and saw that we were now losing 2-1, I was dismayed and thought that it was typical jammy Arsenal to be leading. Anyway, those few minutes of checking the score, turned into about two hours as I watched the second half. The best part of the second half was the late equaliser by Frank amidst beer flying around in the Shed Bar, me getting soaked and lots of singing of “Super Frank”

On my return to the room she was quite ‘troubled’ by my disappearance and wondered why I was soaked and smelling of beer. From that moment on, things were never the same between us, she was never the right person for me anyway, so the following morning at Fulham Broadway, I said goodbye and good riddance. I salute you for your 14th Chelsea goal, Frank and for a great couple of hours in the Shed Bar! Unfortunately we lost the replay, but I’ll always remember that 2-2.

September 13, 2003 versus Tottenham at Stamford Bridge, Premier League – Chelsea won 4-2

Neither the Arsenal, nor the Spurs goals rank in the echelons of Bolton, Bayern, Barcelona or Liverpool, but both goals have memories for me. This one against Spurs was a headed goal by Frank to put us 1-0 up, although as Frank said on Chelsea TV when summing up his first 100 goals, that it was more off of his nose than his head. However, nose, or head, It’s a goal I’ll remember, as it was our first fixture after I’d had major surgery. I wasn’t well enough to be at Stamford Bridge, but knowing that my surgery had been completed and I was on the right side of feeling better, then the goal by Frank and the 4-2 win was a fantastic boost to set me up on the road to recovery.

This was Frank’s 16th career goal for the club, on a beautiful warm Autumnal sunny day. Thank you so much for the boost Frank and for the end result, it was much needed.

April 30, 2005 versus Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium, Premier League – Chelsea won 0-2

No matter where you were or what you were doing on this particular day, it was the pinnacle of Frank’s career and the modern day Chelsea Football Club (With obviously more to come). The man who said that he’d come to Chelsea to win medals, had done just that. The iconic celebration standing in front of the Chelsea fans pointing down to say, “We’ve won it, we’ve won it, here” is legendary. Frank scored two goals that day, the 47th and 48th of his Chelsea career. I remember speaking to somebody that day that had lost his debit card and couldn’t get petrol money to get to Bolton, if I remember correctly he was stuck in Watford. So if that was you, you were talking to me while I was at work. I hope that you managed to get to Bolton to see the double scored by Frank, to achieve our first title in 50 years.

September 13, 2008 versus Manchester City at the Etihad, Premier League – Chelsea won 1-3

This was Frank’s 112th Chelsea goal for the club; five years to the day after he scored against Tottenham in the 4-2 win and five years to the day that I remember feeling rather ill from surgery, so again, thank you for the goal Frank.

This is another ex-story. My ex and I and her son, had gone to the game and we’d enjoyed an early morning drink, a pre-match meal and got a taxi to the ground from the station. Everything went smoothly, she actually liked football and supported Chelsea (A match made in heaven, or so I thought) this was the game where Robinho scored from a free-kick for City after we, as Chelsea fans, thought, until, the very last minute, that he was going to sign for Chelsea. This was also a second debut for Shaun Wright-Phillips for City, so expectancy was high.

During the game JT was sent off, but later had his card rescinded, however, here I was at the game wearing a Chelsea shirt with JT’s name and number on the back. Coming out of the ground I got one or three remarks from City fans and in the end, to protect our own safety, I had to flag down a taxi to get back to the station as the ex-girlfriend got a bit perturbed by the comments and started to worry. I actually blame her as she was the daft arse who wanted me to wear the shirt in the first place. At least she liked football and supported Chelsea though, credit where it’s due.

January 5, 2013 versus Southampton at St Mary’s FA Cup Round 3 – Chelsea won 1-5

This was a great day out at St Mary’s, no ex’s were involved and because of the large allocation, our support was in great voice, as it always is on away trips. The great Kerry Dixon had scored 193 Chelsea career goals for the club during the 1980’s and very early 90’s and prior to this game, Frank was on 192 career goals, so a goal would equal Kerry’s record and put Frank in equal second place. During the second half a penalty was awarded and Frank duly stepped up to lash the ball into the net, in front of the away support for his 193rd. I was proud to say that I was there that day and although I wasn’t at Stoke to see Frank reach 194, I will always have this Southampton goal in my heart to remember the day that Frank equalled Kerry’s record.

Of course, between 2008 and 2013 Frank has scored some important goals and I’m not missing years out on purpose, however, I decided to choose five goals that stand out for me and I’ll stick by that. The 200 that Frank has scored have all been important for Chelsea Football Club, for example, in Moscow to bring the game back to 1-1, or the late, late goal against Stoke under Scolari to win 2-1, or the penalty against Liverpool in the 4-4 draw in the Champions League, this just after Frank’s Mum had passed away, or, indeed, Frank’s 100th goal of his Chelsea career against Huddersfield Town.

The 200th goal of Frank’s glittering Chelsea career came on March 17, 2013 against his former team West Ham, when Eden Hazard crossed the ball for Frank to head past Jussi Jääskeläinen. The former Bolton Wanderers ‘keeper was in goal when Frank scored in 2005 when we landed our first title in 50 years – a very appropriate goalkeeper to score against.

Congratulations Frank! 200 great goals from a great man and a Chelsea legend.

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Defining Moments

Defining Moments

There are some players that are synonymous with certain moments, a moment of brilliance, bravery, stupidity, madness or just something Proper Chels. These are moments are etched into the memory of every Chelsea fan and their story will be told for generations to come.

Some players have acquired cult status due to their loyalty and longevity. Others have made a short yet sudden impact (and not always positive). Below are a few examples of what I think of when I hear a player’s name (in order of appearance made).

Player Name Games Goals Moment
Ron Harris 795 14 Played for Chelsea more times than anyone. The first person to lift the FA Cup as captain for CFC.
Peter Bonetti 729 The Cat' was injured during the 1970 FA Cup final replay, but still played on and ensured the win for the blues.
Frank Lampard* 592 199 Although I am certain this will change almost imminently, I will always remember Super Frank for his 2 goals against Bolton at the Reebok back in 2005. His double strike ensured that Chelsea won their first ever Premier League trophy.
John Hollins 592 64 Both played for and managed Chelsea, is the youngest ever Chelsea captain and once played in 157 consecutive games.
John Terry* 564 51 So many memories, but the story I will pass on for generations cam in the 2007 Carling Cup final vs Arsenal. JT got knocked out when kicked in the head whilst trying to head the ball. He had to go to hospital and so missed lifting the trophy. However, he did return in time to celebrate with the rest of the team in the changing room afterwards. JT = Captain, Leader, Legend.
Dennis Wise 445 76 My favourite player of all time. I wish he was still at the club now. For me, he will be remembered for THAT goal he scored in the San Siro, 10 minutes to go…
Steve Clarke 421 10 Clarkey, one of Chelsea's highest ever appearance makers, yet I will always remember him as Assistant Manager during the golden years. Reported by many as the main reason CFC continued to do so well after Jose Mourinho was sacked.
Kerry Dixon 420 193 A club legend who smashed home a goal vs Arsenal at Highbury on the opening day of the 1984/85 season after Chelsea had just returned to the top flight.
Petr Cech* 412 Arguably the greatest goalkeeper in Chelsea's history. Although his penalty shootout heroics were incredible, I will never forget the save he made in the 2012 FA Cup final. Pure brilliance that only Big Pete could achieve and yet never replicate.
Eddie McCreadie 410 5 A man who both played for and managed Chelsea. His signature big sunglasses and coat on the touchline. When I hear the name McCreadie, I think of the time Chelsea played Hull in the last game of 1976/77 season at Stamford Bridge. The fans had invaded the pitch TWICE before the final whistle. McCreadie stood on the halfway line with a megaphone and urged the fans to stay off the pitch to let the game finish.
John Bumstead 409 44 Chelsea captain during a poor era.
Peter Osgood 380 150 Although meeting Ossie at my first ever Chelsea game will always be a personal memory, I think of the King of Stamford Bridge as the last man to score in every round of the FA Cup in one season.
Charlie Cooke 373 30 During a game against Wolves at Stamford Bridge, the Bonnie Prince was stuck by the corner flag between the Shed End and East stand with 3 players around him. Somehow he came managed to wriggle his way past the trio of defenders and retain the ball.
Bobby Tambling 370 202 Chelsea's highest ever goalscorer and only person to score a hattrick for the blues against Arsenal.
Roy Bentley 367 150 Chelsea's first ever Championship winning captain.
Colin Pates 346 10 Same as John Bumstead, Chelsea captain during a poor era.
Marvin Hinton 344 4 Substitute in the 1970 FA Cup final win over Leeds Utd.
Peter Houseman 343 39 His goal in the 1970 FA Cup final.
Didier Drogba 341 157 It's written in the stars! Didier Drogba will always be remembered and idolised for his last ever kick of a football for Chelsea; the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final.
Gary Locke 317 4 A consistent performer at full back.
Micky Droy 313 19 The tall midfielder never had to jump to win a header due to his huge size.
Graeme Le Saux 312 16 Although his altercations with Robbie Fowler were amusing, I have to say him throwing his Chelsea shirt to the ground when substituted against Southampton back in 1993.
Gianfranco Zola 312 80 How can you possibly choose one moment?! However, I'm going for his final game where he dribbled round half of the Liverpool team near the corner flag, leaving some of the players literally on their backside, before being bundled over. Genius!
Ashley Cole* 301 7 The king of goal line clearances, but I'm going to select his smug face and comments after winning the Champions League final. Germans don't lose at penalties, "They do now!"
David Webb 299 33 Has to be the winning goal for Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup final vs Leeds Utd.
Ian Britton 289 34 Hair!
Peter Sillett 288 34 Most noted for his penalty against Wolves on Easter Sunday in 1955 to virtually seal the blues first ever league championship.
Joe Cole 282 39 A real fans favourite, and a Chelsea an himself. My greatest Joe Cole moment was his goal against Man Utd when he made Rio Ferdinand look amateurish by dragging the ball around him before smashing the ball home.
Nigel Spackman 267 14 Got to be when he punched Martin Keown in the head against Arsenal in 1995.
John Mikel Obi* 266 2 We're still waiting for that Premier League goal so I'm going to say his unfair reputation for losing possession of the ball too easily.
John Boyle 266 12 The first ever person to come on as a substitute for Chelsea.
Eidur Gudjohnsen 263 78 That overhead kick against Leeds Utd at Stamford Bridge!
Salomon Kalou 254 61 Why do we love this man? It's because he crossed the ball from the left, it landed right on Riise's head… That's why we love Salomon Kalou.
Michael Essien* 247 25 His wonder strike against Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League semi final was one of the greatest goals I've ever seen at Stamford Bridge.
Pat Nevin 242 45 Sorry, Pat, but it has to be your famous penalty against Man City in 1984.
Terry Venables 237 31 The first person to lift the League Cup for Chelsea as captain.
Florent Malouda* 229 44 A player who was made to rot in the reserves as punishment for not agreeing to take a pay cut.
William Gallas 225 14 His best moment in a Chelsea shirt was his last minute wonder strike against Tottenham. Shame about the end of his CFC career.
Clive Walker 224 65 Liverpool in the 1978 FA Cup. A match winning performance and a tremendous left footed strike from the edge of the penalty area.
Marcel Desailly 222 7 The Rock. People under estimate the importance of his headed equaliser against Liverpool in 2003. It was rumoured that Chelsea would be in huge financial difficulty had they lost that game. Fortunately he did, and Roman Abramovich soon took over.
Stan Willemse 221 2 Hard as nails 1955 Championship winning fullback who used to travel up from Brighton for each game.
Frank Sinclair 218 13 His goal against Middlesbrough on his final appearance to when Chelsea won the 1998 League Cup? Nah, sorry Frank. It has to be the famous 'pulling down your shorts' incident vs Coventry for me.
Claude Makelele 217 2 The only player to have a position named after him. Absolute legend and one of the greatest ever Chelsea players.
Carlo Cudicini 216 The greatest ever backup goalkeeper. Finest moment was a last minute save from Berbatov against Spurs in the 4-4 draw at White Hart Lane in 2008.
Paulo Ferreira* 215 2 Mr 7 out of 10 every week.
Eddie Newton 214 10 Scoring the 2nd goal as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in the 1997 FA Cup final.
Ricardo Carvalho 210 11 Slide tackles, a goal against Man Utd, but I'm going to say the egg shaped bump he received on his head during a game against Valencia in 2007.
Dan Petrescu 208 24 He dummies a shot, and again, then goal. "What a f*@king goal" he screamed.
John Dempsey 207 7 Defender who scored the winner against Real Madrid in the 1971 UEFA Cup Winners Cup final replay.
David Speedie 205 64 A feisty Scotsman who people say could start an argument with himself. He did score a hattrick at Wembley for Chelsea in the 5-4 win over Man City in the 1986 Full Members Cup.
Branislav Ivanovic* 204 20 Two Goal Branislav Ivanovic' scoring two headed goals against Liverpool in the Champions League.
Frank Leboeuf 204 24 Great penalty taker, but will always remembered for his request to change the lyrics to his fans chant so it didn't include any swearing.
Ray Wilkins 198 33 My word. Captained Chelsea at the age of 18. A huge fans favourite as a player and part of the coaching staff.
Celestine Babayaro 197 8 One word… Back flips.
David Lee 194 13 The hardest penalty shot EVER. My dad and I always refer to a 'David Lee' penalty. If a keeper did get a hand to it then then would also end up in the back of the net.
Kevin Wilson 191 55 Moustache!
Alan Hudson 189 14 Missing the 1970 FA Cup final through injury.
Nicolas Anelka 184 59 Le Sulk. Sorry, Nico, but you missed that penalty in Moscow.
Erland Johnsen 183 1 Perhaps the hardest man to play for Chelsea. The Norwegian's dive against Leicester in the 1997 FA Cup just beats his 'attempted murder' charge on the Brugge goal keeper.
Tony Dorigo 180 12 A stunning freekick at Wembley gave Chelsea a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough in the 1990 ZDS final.
Ed De Goey 179 The big Dutch goal keeper with an equally big moustache.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 177 87 I loved his stunning strike vs Man Utd, his huge white grin, but I'm going to choose his perfect hattrick against Spurs in 2002.
Roberto Di Matteo 175 26 The hardest choice of all for me. However, being the manager of the Champions League winning side just edges out his 1997 FA Cup final goal after 43 seconds. There's only one Di Matteo.
Eddie Niedzwiecki 175 Broken finger.
Ron Tindall 174 69 The man who gave Peter Bonetti the nickname of 'The Cat'.
Jody Morris 173 9 Trombone goal celebration after he scored Chelsea's 5th goal against Man Utd in a 5-0 win.
Gareth Hall 171 5 His goal against Spurs in the thrilling 4-3 win at Stamford Bridge in 1994.
Jimmy Greaves 169 132 Just the sheer number of goals he scored for Chelsea in such a short period of time and at such a young age.
Michael Ballack 167 26 His fierce goal celebration after scoring against Blackburn in the 2007 FA Cup semi final at Old Trafford? Nope, it's his berating of disgraced Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo after he denied at least 4 penalties in the 2008/09 Champions League semi final against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
Mario Melchiot 165 5 A Dutchman with dreadlocks? Well, maybe scoring in the 2000 Charity Shield against Man Utd.
George Hilsdon 164 108 George 'Gatling Gun' Hilsdon is the only player to score 6 goals in one game for Chelsea. Weathervane.
Tore Andre Flo 163 50 A tall man with great feet. Has to be his hattrick against Tottenham when "We won 6-1 at the Lane".
Dave Beasant 157 His poor performance against Norwich City.
Gordon Durie 153 63 Jukebox' scored 5 goals in one game for Chelsea against Walsall. He is the last player to do this for CFC.
Tommy Langley 152 43 One of the youngest ever people to play for Chelsea. Perhaps most remembered for his goal against Wolves in 1976/77 season at Molineux.
Jimmy Windridge 152 58 One of Chelsea's earliest regular goalscorers.
Graham Wilkins 149 1 Own goals and the brother of Ray Wilkins.
Dmitri Kharine 146 Excellent shot stopper who always wore tracksuit bottoms. I'll always remember his poor kicking though, especially in the last minute against Newcastle in the FA Cup.
Gustavo Poyet 145 49 It's got to be THAT scissors volley against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge after Gianfranco Zola scooped the ball up for him.
Hughie Gallacher 144 81 Prolific goal scorer who was banned for two months after swearing at a referee.
Ian Hutchinson 144 58 Got to be his long throw in to set up the winner for Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup final replay.
Wayne Bridge 142 4 Although the Bridge/Terry incident has marred his Chelsea reputation, I will remember him for his goal against Arsenal in the Champions League quarter final to seal victory for the blues.
Andy Townsend 138 19 Judas.
Craig Burley 137 11 Missing teeth, but mainly his awful backpass at Villa Park which helped Man Utd seal victory in the 1996 FA Cup semi final.
John Spencer 137 43 Running 80 yards with the ball and scoring past the Austria Vienna goalkeeper to ensure Chelsea progressed into the 3rd round of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1995 on away goals.
Kevin Hitchcock 135 His penalty shootout heroics against Newcastle in the 1996 FA Cup 3rd round replay at St James' Park.
Alex 134 10 I'm going for his thunderbolt freekick in the 4-4 game vs Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in the 2009 Champions League quarter final.
Gavin Peacock 134 27 Although he scored both goals in 1-0 wins over Man Utd in the 1993/94 season, I'm choosing him hitting the bar in the 1994 FA Cup final. Oh how different things could have been if that had gone in!
Ramires* 132 21 No surprises here, but his chipped goal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp after John Terry had been sent off. It even won goal of the season that year.
Jose Bosingwa 126 3 The monobrow. Mostly remembered for his superb display at centre back against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
Damien Duff 125 19 A tricky Irish winger, who scored in that huge 4-2 win over Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Arguably the greatest game of football in the CFC history in terms of the quality on the pitch.
Shaun Wright-Phillips 125 10 Expensive winger with no crossing ability.
Mark Hughes 123 39 I loved his goal against Vicenza, but will always be remembered for coming on as a sub against Liverpool in the 1997 FA Cup 4th round. Chelsea were losing 2-0 at half time, Mark Hughes came on, scored, and the blues ended up winning 4-2. Comeback.
Ken Shellito 123 2 Spent his entire playing career at Chelsea and then going on to manage the club.
Jesper Gronkjaer 119 11 Great pace, terrible cross although scored a goal worth billions after his strike against Liverpool ensured a 2-1 win for Chelsea and investment from Roman Abramovich.
Michael Duberry 115 3 HEEEEEED! I'm going for his headed goal against Man Utd at Old Trafford in 1996.
Petar Borota 114 Eccentric goalkeeper who would often run up to the half way line during games.
Fernando Torres* 113 27 The man responsible for Gary Neville's 'Score-gasm' after netting the equaliser against Barcelona in the last minute of the 2012 Champions League semi final, securing a place against Bayern Munich in Munich.
Albert Ferrer 113 1 Chapi, he was the reliable right back before Paulo Ferreira made it famous.
Graham Stuart 110 18 His wonder goal vs Sheffield Wednesday in 1992.
Geremi 109 4 His wonder strike volley against Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge in 2003.
Arjen Robben 106 19 His explosive debut vs Blackburn at Stamford Bridge in 2004.
Andy Myers 106 2 Nicknamed 'Tyson' due to his toughness.
Bob McRoberts 106 10 Scored Chelsea's first ever penalty back in 1905 against Barnsley at Stamford Bridge.
Paul Canoville 103 15 The first ever black person to play for Chelsea.
Juan Mata* 100 29 Perhaps the most important player at the club right now. His volley against Man Utd is my Mata moment, but I'm sure more great things will come of the Spaniard soon!
Daniel Sturridge 96 24 Never fulfilled his potential at Chelsea. Have gone for his back heel goal against Sunderland though.
Juliano Belletti 94 5 Without doubt, his goal of the season strike vs Tottenham in 2008.
Ben Howard Baker 93 1 The only goal keeper to score for Chelsea.
Joey Jones 91 2 The only person to be sent off on his Chelsea debut in a game against Carlisle Utd at Brunton Park in 1982.
David Luiz* 90 9 Munich 2012 – the interview he gave when completely drunk. Geezer.
Gianluca Vialli 88 40 His goals against Tromso in the snow in 1997.
Paul Furlong 85 17 The sitter he missed against QPR at Stamford Bridge.
Graham Roberts 83 22 Scoring 13 penalties in the 1988/89 season.
Mario Stanic 80 10 That stunning volley against West Ham on his Premier League debut in 2000.
Andriy Shevchenko 77 22 Considered a £30m flop, although his strike against Spurs in the FA Cup was a beauty.
Emmanuel Petit 76 3 Ponytail.
Hernan Crespo 73 25 I'm going to choose his last minute winner for Chelsea against Wigan in 2005.
Glen Johnson 72 4 The first big money signing of the Roman Abramovich era.
Jakob Kjeldbjerg 66 2 Having his name spelt wrong on the back of his shirt.
Ron Greenwood 66 Future England manager.
Ruud Gullit 64 7 Such an impact in such a short time. The first ever foreign manager to win the FA Cup. I'll always remember his solo goal vs Man City at Stamford Bridge in 1996.
Mark Stein 63 25 That penalty winning penalty in the 4-3 win against Spurs in 1994 in the last minute that flew back out after hitting the stanchion.
Robert Huth 62 2 Riding around in the gardeners truck after the final game of the 2004/05 season. No nonsense. HUUUUTH!
Boudewijn Zenden 59 4 Rafa Benitez' assistant despite not having any coaching qualifications.
Jason Cundy 57 2 Chelsea defender and Chelsea fan. Can always be heard going nuts on Chelsea TV when the blues score. And who can forget the Lederhosen?!
Gary Cahill* 56 8 Heroics in the 2012 Champions League final in his first game for 4 weeks after picking up an injury in the semi final against Barcelona.
Paul Elliott 54 3 Chelsea's first ever black captain. His career was cut short after a horrific challenge from Dean Saunders in 1992.
Mickey Thomas 54 11 Scoring twice on his home debut for Chelsea against Sheffield Wednesday on the way to wining the second division title in the 1983/84 season.
Keith Weller 54 15 Scored Chelsea's fastest ever goal. He netted after 12 seconds against Middlesbrough in 1970.
Mikael Forssell 53 12 The youngest ever Premier League goalscorer for Chelsea.
Tiago 52 4 That strike against Man Utd at Old Trafford in 2005.
Vinnie Jones 52 7 Although he has the record for the quickest yellow card for Chelsea, the 'Hard Man' come Movie Star scored an important goal for the blues in 2-1 win vs Liverpool at Anfield.
Yury Zhirkov 49 1 His one and only goal for Chelsea against Spartak Moscow.
Raul Meireles 48 6 That goal against Benfica (Pass, pass, just bloody pass it…. GOAL. Ok then)
Robert Fleck 48 4 He was a record signing striker who didn't perform before it was popular.
Neil Shipperley 48 9 A promising young, tall, lanky striker who put on a surprising amount of weight after he retired.
Didier Deschamps 47 1 His only goal for Chelsea against Hertha Berlin in 1999.
David Hopkin 46 1 Ginger
Nils Middelboe 46 1 The first foreigner to ever play for Chelsea, back in 1913.
Bjarne Goldbaek 40 5 His stunning strike against Tottenham.
Chris Sutton 39 3 One of the worst strikers to have played for Chelsea.
Glenn Hoddle 39 1 The man many fans consider started the glory era for Chelsea back in 1993.
John Tait Robertson 39 7 Chelsea's first ever manager and goal scorer.
Adrian Mutu 38 10 Drugs.
Tony Godden 38 Saved 2 penalties in one game against Man Utd at Old Trafford in 1986.
William Foulke 35 Fatty' Foulke was Chelsea's first ever captain and goal keeper. The man weighed around 22 stone.
Asier Del Horno 34 1 Sent off for a soft foul against Lionel Messi.
Mick Harford 34 11 Scored Chelsea's first ever Premier League goal.
Gabriele Ambrosetti 23 1 Dubbed the 'Italian Ryan Giggs' when he signed in 1999, but never looked like it, even now when Giggs in his 70s!
Paul Hughes 23 2 Debut goal at Stamford Bridge in 1997.
Pierluigi Casiraghi 15 1 A striker whose career was cut short after an injury against West Ham in 1998.
Winston Bogarde 12 Money grabber who spent almost all his time for Chelsea playing in the reserves.
Ian Hamilton 5 2 The youngest ever player and goal scorer for Chelsea FC at the age of 16 years and 138 days in 1967 against Tottenham.

* Still playing for Chelsea FC

If you liked this article then follow me on Twitter – @ChelseaChadder. Also feel free to comment on your own memorable moments for these players, or any others I have missed out.

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Cech and Courtois: A Conundrum

Cech and Courtois: A Conundrum

There are problems, and there are so-called ‘first world problems’. You know the drill; which latest technological advancement to purchase, what to do when your wireless internet drops for five seconds, that sort of thing.

At Chelsea Football Club, they too face decisions of this nature now and then, and chief amongst them is what to do about their goalkeeping situation. They’re blessed to find themselves in the luxurious position of having a legendary veteran incumbent in Petr Cech, and a world-class youngster in Thibaut Courtois ready to step in and ensure that the gloves are well worn for the best part of the next twenty years.

By acting swiftly and astutely in the summer of 2010, the Blues have created a pipeline which is doubtless the envy of clubs worldwide. However, despite the obvious benefits of having a ready-made replacement on their books, the powers that be at Stamford Bridge must manage the coming months and years very delicately to ensure that they take maximum gain from their impressive groundwork.

Petr Cech is not to be cast aside just yet. Nobody is calling for that to happen, certainly not after his heroics in Munich last May, and his place as probably Chelsea’s greatest all-time number one is assured for a long time to come. He’s had a few bumps in the road (and to the head) in his almost nine years of service, but there are few stoppers in the game who offer what he does. He’s a spritely 30 years of age with possibly another decade left in him at the top level.

Thibaut Courtois, however, is a player of immense ability and staggering potential. Not yet 21, he is the best goalkeeper in Spain, a Europa League winner and a first choice Belgian international; a team packed with intriguing players who may make quite the splash on the world stage in Brazil in 2014. Clean sheets come naturally, especially at home, where he is currently putting up record sequences of dominance. He has handled every step up in his career with an air of superiority and casual shrug of the shoulders, as if it’s all too easy for him.

Thanks to the sheer volume of live football made available to the discerning football fan, Chelsea fans are as aware as anyone of Courtois’ many strengths, with Sky’s coverage of the Spanish Primera Division regularly featuring his Atlético Madrid side. He creates excitement but also anxiety, for the fans are keen to ensure that for once, the loan system works in the club’s favour and the fruits of their labour are harvested in SW6.

News of Barcelona’s Victor Valdés apparently seeking to depart the Nou Camp caused some consternation amongst Courtois fans as the Catalan club quickly tabbed the Belgian as one of a select few replacements for Valdés, and with Cech showing no sign of being ready to move on in London, it could conceivably appeal to the player to move on up in La Liga. They’re the marquee name in world football and the reality is that very few players would turn down such an opportunity.

This is why Chelsea have to make some very important decisions in the near future. At some point in the next eighteen months they will have to choose between Cech and Courtois. A point in time will come where their respective development paths will cross – as Cech hits his downward curve and Courtois continues on an upwards trajectory – and ordinarily this would be the time to make the change.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen particularly soon. For now, Courtois is happy playing in Spain, and Atlético are happy to continue receiving the loan services of an elite player. The arrangement will probably continue into a third season for 2013-14, which will suit all parties, particularly the player, who will be looking to assure his place as a starter at the World Cup at the end of the season. Bringing him back to sit on the bench as a backup or as a rotation option is asking for trouble; either the player’s development goes to pot or you create a goalkeeping controversy which affects everyone involved and has a negative outcome.

Whenever a change is made, be it Courtois or someone else, it has to be ‘final’. There can be no phasing out period, for as brutal as it might sound and appear, the team can only benefit from a complete change rather than a gradual transition. They must pick one and run with them.

Looking towards the medium term, ambition will certainly have to play a part. Courtois’ maiden Chelsea contract runs until the summer of 2016, which coincides with the expiration of Cech’s latest extension. Cech will be 34, Courtois of course still ten years his junior at 24, two years older than the Czech was when he displaced Carlo Cudicini upon Jose Mourinho’s arrival.

Three and a half years is a long time away though, and although nobody seems to be particularly bothered about rushing into a decision, football can change in an instant. Another lengthy injury to Cech, as terrible as it would be, would likely see Courtois’ arrival sped up. On the flip side, if the young pretender receives an offer he would find hard to turn down, he could make life very hard for his parent club, who whilst getting a nice transfer fee for him would then be back to square one in finding a successor.

Cech has acknowledged that to hold off Courtois’ advances, he has to continue to be better than him. Right now, he is just that, and for every brilliant thing the Atlético loanee can offer, Cech has the additional benefit of many years at the very top and the mental nous required to continue to hone his craft. He has spoken at length of the preparation and psychology behind his Munich excellence, and there really is no substitute for exposure to those situations.

Yet players will only get that experience if they’re given the chance. Mourinho made the bold move to ditch Cudicini – who was a top-three Premier League goalkeeper aged nearly 31 – upon his arrival and was thoroughly vindicated. He figured that he had very little to lose in terms of comparative ability at that juncture, but a veritable wealth of riches to reap by going with Cech.

That will be the decisive factor in this particular conundrum. We don’t know who’s going to make it, and therefore we don’t have an insight into when it’s going to be made. Rafael Benitez’s replacement (as there surely must be one…) might repeat Mourinho’s trick and decide that Cech’s time is up. It would be a decision made far too prematurely, for sure, but it might well happen.

Chelsea are incredibly fortunate to have a player who is an inch taller than Cech, left-footed like Cech, and comprehensively dominant and commanding in his penalty area like Cech. He is, if you like, the very picture of the player you would want to succeed him. They’ve put themselves into the position to be able to do so, but must tread carefully to ensure it’s done both at the right time, and at all.

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Remember Romeu?

Remember Romeu?

Before Tuesday night’s League Cup outing, Oriol Romeu had not featured in a Chelsea shirt since April, when he was in the team which played away to Arsenal.

He was absent from the club’s pre-season stateside and the only real indication he still existed before this midweek was a token place amongst the substitutes in the odd game so far this season.

Yet on the day after celebrating his 21st birthday, the Spaniard offered a timely reminder of his presence and his capabilities as a solid performance against Wolves will certainly have given Roberto Di Matteo food for thought in midfield.

The visitors were as poor a team that have come to Stamford Bridge in many a year and the match was effectively over after just three minutes, so a contest it was not, but there was still ample time for strategies to be developed, styles to be honed, and minutes to be played for.

Appearing slightly leaner than when we last saw him (not that he was ever particularly portly) and with oodles more confidence about him, he enjoyed the freedom of the time and space on offer to dictate the way Chelsea went about their play.

He has often been a tidy organiser; positionally capable with fine awareness and a propensity to get the ball and play it simple.

Tuesday’s outing remains a small sample in isolation but he was in pro-active form, seeking long, raking passes out to the flanks and keen to bring the ball forward in the transition from defence to attack.

His relationship with compatriots Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata may also be something to watch in the coming weeks and months. The trio have played together at junior level for Spain but this was a first club match with each in the line-up, yet their footballing education and understanding of the roles each undertake was such that it appeared to have been carefully honed over many years of hard work.

To cap things off, he scored a penalty as something of a birthday present. Whether he was instructed to take it or not, the decisiveness with which he strode forward and the expertise in the finish from 12 yards was demonstrative of his night’s work.

Last season, Romeu played 24 times in all competitions. He started well, typically protected by a midfield built in front of him, allowing him to play in front of the back four and do little else; a low-risk model which asked him to do the basics and not a lot more.

He’s clearly capable of upping his productivity and exerting a greater influence on affairs, and so it begs the question; will he get to?

Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel are doubtless the first choice pairing in the central midfield area but whilst both are fine footballers, neither are currently suited to playing their current roles.

As the season goes along, they’ll become more effective through familiarity, but thus far there have been more than a few hiccups involving the duo and the centre-backs behind them.

Romeu may be a better fit, he may not be, but his thoughts on playing as part of a ‘double pivot’ (a term I personally could never get along with, but so be it for this purpose) are rather interesting:

“I think, when you play 4-2-3-1, there is always one of the two in the middle who can play more advanced and go forward more than the other one, like Lamps or Oscar. The other player has to stay more and keep the balance of the midfield.

However, I think the balance is more important than the formation itself. When the team plays well, the formation is a little thing. Sometimes, people like to say, if you don’t play well, the formation is not good. However, I think the key is the mentality of the players – if they believe in the way their team is playing, it doesn’t matter.

If you believe in the formation, it doesn’t matter, because the players are always going to move around the pitch and that means sometimes you are in a 4-2-3-1 but, other times, you are in a 3-4-3 or something different. It changes all the time in the game.

If you rotate your positions all the time, then your opponent doesn’t have a marker and he doesn’t know where or when to press. I think that makes it more difficult for them, because they are doubting themselves a little bit.”

(Interview with the official Chelsea FC Matchday Programme)

Romeu is a well-schooled footballer – not just a midfielder – with the requisite tactical knowledge to go alongside his technical assets. With a year under his belt in the English game and an increasingly mature approach, he should see an upturn in his playing time in the hectic schedule until the new year, and who knows, he could well establish himself as the solution in a troubled area of the pitch for the new-look Blues.

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We Need To Talk About Romelu

We Need To Talk About Romelu

There’s scarcely been a better or more appropriate time to discuss Romelu Lukaku.

Following a frustrating first season at Chelsea, the Belgian returned for the new campaign determined to prove himself and, following some rather terse words towards his permanent employers after departing on loan to West Bromwich Albion, he’s started pretty well, with a goal for his country against Holland and another for the Baggies against Liverpool.

To suggest he is persona non grata amongst Blues fans for his ‘outburst’ last week would be taking it too far, but it’s fair to say that the comments didn’t go down particularly well.

‘I couldn’t see myself staying at Chelsea. I sacrificed a year of my career with them and didn’t want to put up with it any more. ‘I decided in March I wanted to go out on loan, and told my agent to find me a club. I am relieved to have found a solution.

‘On the first day of pre-season I told the manager I wanted to leave. Roberto Di Matteo told me I ought to think about Chelsea as there weren’t going to be many other strikers this season, but this is the time for me to think about myself.

‘I got sick of watching the others from the bench. I just played 12 games and when I was playing well, they would take me off. ‘I lost my hunger for the game over the past year. I won’t beat about the bush – my season at Chelsea went very badly.

‘As regards getting minutes on the pitch, I wasted my time. Last season I was in the reserves alongside a young lad who’d barely turned 15 and I asked myself what I was doing there.’

Football fans are, amongst many things, a loyal and tribal bunch. Many take a personal affront at any criticism of the club they support, and so when one of their own players takes a verbal swipe at the team, we often see a rancorous reaction.

Yet we have to remind ourselves that above all, Romelu Lukaku has to look out for Romelu Lukaku. Yes, he is a Chelsea footballer, but having been undeniably messed around and wasted last season, anyone who expected anything else from him this summer may be slightly on the naïve side.

Perhaps he could have shown a little discretion in the manner of his criticisms but everyone has a tipping point. Having already played for Anderlecht last season, he could only appear for one more club during the 2011-12 campaign and once he was handed a debut against Norwich, that was it for him.

He doesn’t suggest he should have been starting ahead of Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres, but to not make a single league start until the final day of the season and to go largely unused during the African Cup of Nations when Torres was the only other senior striker available must have stung the youngster.

It’s not the first time that the club have made a poor decision at a key point in the career of a young player. Whilst we rightly commend the successes coming through the academy, there are undeniable examples of players having months or even seasons where their careers have stagnated.

Last season though, Lukaku kept quiet, kept his head down and worked hard for the reserves (finishing as leading goalscorer) and, most importantly, has shown signs of progress.

His weaknesses are clear and readily highlighted by critics. He’s nowhere near approaching being the finished article, but Chelsea knew this when they signed him.

“Bearing in mind what he has been doing in the last couple of years since starting at Anderlecht at the young age of 16 we didn’t want to let this boy escape and it is a question of days or hours till this is done,”

“He is one of those players we couldn’t afford to lose because of his potential and that’s why we made the move in the market even though our team is competitive enough in that sector of the field.”

If you sit down in front of the footage of his debut in August and then watch him against Blackburn in May, the signs of improvement are there for all to see. He has refined most aspects of his game, he’s involved in more of the play, his link-up ability is more subtle and he gets more shots away than before.

He has a remarkable skill set, perhaps unrivalled in modern football. There may well be others of his height and build, but very few of them are blessed with his exceptional athletic abilities and physical prowess.

At close to 6’4” and almost 100kg of muscle, he resembles something of a freight train when running at full speed. He plays with an enthusiasm and desire to make an impact in line with his tender years; he is, after all, younger than Josh McEachran.

But whereas Josh came quietly through the club’s ranks and is a more introverted character, Romelu has the burden of an £18m transfer fee to deal with.

Fans, maybe with some justification, expect more for their money, but each transfer must be judged in its own context and in no way should be be appraising a 19 year-old Lukaku as the finished product.

The prospect of what he could achieve if everything comes together is downright frightful. We’ve been blessed by eight sensational years of Didier Drogba steamrollering and battering the world’s elite on the biggest stages, but he remains in comparison to Lukaku a rather lithe 6’1” 90kg pup.

It’s hard to draw comparisons to players of yesteryear when looking at him simply because there’s been so few forwards of his stature. I’ve previously mentioned the name Emile Heskey in passing, which may seem crude and laughable given the veteran’s later years and subsequently earned ‘reputation’, but we should remember that from 1995 to the early part of the 2000s, he was a dynamic, dominant forward who earned a big-money move to Liverpool and became a key player for England.

A look at his best bits reminds us of what he was capable of:

Yet even then, Heskey seems to be overshadowed by Lukaku on the tale of the tape. The majority of physically dominant frontmen of the recent era have been notably smaller than him, at least those aspiring to play at the same top levels. Kenwyne Jones is 6’2″ and 85kg according to ESPN. Carlton Cole isn’t far off, but lacks the frame and pace.

When we come across a taller individual, they tend to be the of beanpole ilk; Nikola Zigic, Peter Crouch, or Andy Carroll. Perhaps Fernando Llorente at 6’5″ and 90kg is the best striker in the world of a similar size. It wouldn’t be bad if Lukaku (eight years his junior) went on to have a career like his, would it?

Whether our young man goes on to score over 100 goals in England and racks up 60-odd caps for Belgium, playing at a series of major tournaments or not remains to be seen. It’s just far too early to begin to judge him.

Give him a pass for his comments last week. He’s young, he’s frustrated, and he’ll learn from them. If he ends up a key contributor in blue in years to come, very few people will ever remember it anyway.

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