Since Roman Abramovich bought the club in July of 2003, Chelsea have become a different club than they were in decades past, both in stature and in the eyes of global fans of the game. With the exception of Manchester City’s likely progression over the next few years, Chelsea are rather unique in the Premier League. Since the introduction of new ownership, they’ve enjoyed success like never before, especially with such frequency.
That’s why I chose to focus a ‘historical’ best Chelsea XI on the post-Abramovich era. When one thinks of the past 12 years at Chelsea Football Club, they think of a club transformed, from Abramovich’s yearning for the Champions League, to long-standing servants of the club like John Terry and Frank Lampard, to the controversies that have surrounded each manager’s tenures at the helm. However, despite the managerial turmoil, Chelsea have enjoyed an impressive haul of silverware, winning several Premier League titles, along with the FA Cup and League Cup trophies, the Europa League and, most coveted of all, the Champions League.
You don’t win all of those things without great talent in the squad, and Chelsea have had their fair share of legendary players during that time. From Didier Drogba to Michael Ballack, Joe Cole to Damien Duff, Lampard to Ashley Cole, Terry to Eidor Gudjohnsen, Nemanja Matic to Eden Hazard, Chelsea have had a number of memorable names on the roster. But I could only pick XI. Without further ado, here is my Chelsea Best XI of the Abramovich Era.
Chelsea’s Best XI Post-Abramovich
11. Ricardo Carvalho – Carvalho arrived at Stamford Bridge as almost a package deal with manager José Mourinho in July of 2004. The former Porto center back had a rather high price for a defender but justified it with staunch defending alongside John Terry. His contributions to the back four were a major reason for Chelsea’s stellar defensive record on their way to claiming back-to-back titles. The lanky defender had an eye for goal, a knack for interceptions and a hard-nosed style that endeared him to Chelsea supporters even after his eventual sale to Real Madrid in 2010 (to join Mourinho).
10. Paulo Ferreira – Ferreira was also a member of the FC Porto side which won the 2004 Champions League under Mourinho. Like Carvalho, he followed his manager to West London in search of further conquests and proved a valuable member of the squad for years. Most celebrated for his versatility, the diminutive Portuguese defender was able to feature on the left and right side of the back four. Even after Mourinho’s departure, Paulo Ferreira was a constant fixture at Chelsea, ultimately helping to win the 2012 Champions League before retiring from the club at the end of the season.
9. Joe Cole – Dubbed ‘the English Messi’ by many, Cole was known for his impressive technical ability and tireless work-ethic and played in both attacking center midfield and on the wing during his time at Chelsea. The former West Ham man joined the Blues in the summer of 2003, following fellow Hammers Glen Johnson and Frank Lampard, who had signed the summer before. Cole had a breakout season in 2005-2006, capped off by his impressive solo goal against Manchester United in a 3-0 rout. Though some say José Mourinho prevented his development by insisting he focus on his defensive duties, many others assert that this only made him a more dynamic player.
8. Arjen Robben – Robben has been terrorizing defenders for years. With an incisive left foot and a quickness which has frustrated even the most seasoned of back lines, the Dutchman joined Chelsea from PSV Eindhoven in March 2004. Snubbing Manchester United, who PSV felt had offered a shockingly low price, Robben joined Chelsea and hit the ground running. An ever-present member of the back-to-back title-winning sides, Robben created and scored some magical goals. Chelsea fans will likely recall his goal against Fulham — his fourth for the club — where he went on a mazy run before burying with his left foot. One of the first players to thrive playing on the opposite side of his strong foot, Robben revolutionized the right wing position and forever cemented his name in the hearts of the Chelsea faithful.
7. Michael Essien – Essien, affectionately known to Blues fans as the Bison, embodied the tireless spirit of the 2005-2006 Premier League Champions. Joining from Olympique Lyon in Aug. 2005, Essien made himself a staple in the midfield of Mourinho’s side, scoring some unforgettable goals along the way. His swerving outside of the boot blast against Arsenal is likely the first one that comes to mind, but there were many others that were less celebrated but just as important. Though he joined Mourinho at Real Madrid on loan in the summer of 2012, the Ghanaian midfielder celebrated lifting the Champions League trophy with Chelsea and finally left the club in January 2014 on a free transfer.
6. César Azpilicueta – Azpilicueta, affectionately dubbed ‘Dave’ by Chelsea fans due to his long last name, has already played his way into legendary status in the club’s colors. Signed from Marseille in Aug. 2012, the Spanish defender has been a mainstay over the past three years. Normally a right back, the hard-working Azpilicueta has shown his versatility by playing the majority of his time at left back. Earning praise from teammates and opponents alike, his work rate and sportsmanship have been a staple of his time at Chelsea. Dependability is his biggest asset, and Mourinho famously stated he’d gladly take a team of 11 Azpilicuetas if he had to choose.
5. Claude Makelele – Makelele is perhaps best known for his defensive stability and positional awareness, bossing midfields with the slightest of efforts and possessing a commanding presence that led many to name the defensive midfield role after him. A guaranteed starter in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 teams, Makalele joined Chelsea on deadline day in the summer of 2003 from Real Madrid. His calmness on the ball and no-nonsense tackling earned him a respect around the league and worldwide, and his consistency was a major reason for Chelsea’s stellar defending in those years. Ask any Chelsea fan, Makelele was absolutely essential in the early years of the post-Abramovich era.
4. Petr Cech – Cech will always be a Chelsea hero, not least for his heroics in the 2012 Champions League final, in which he saved two penalties and helped the Blues hoist their first ever trophy in the competition. Known for wearing the unmistakeable head protector, Cech carved out a place for himself which he kept for 11 years, finally usurped last season by talented youngster Thibaut Courtois. Although he featured minimally last season as Chelsea’s lifted the Premier League title, he earned several clean sheets and made crucial saves, even if the lack of first team play prompted a crosstown move to Arsenal ahead of the 2015 season. It speaks to his legendary status at the club that his transfer to one of Chelsea’s hated rivals was, for the most part, met with respect and understanding.
3. Didier Drogba – Drogba will forever live in legend among Chelsea fans. Whether it was his match-winning penalty kick to deliver the most coveted trophy in the Blues’ history, or whether it was his unfailing ability to score when they needed him most, Drogba has left his mark on the club for all time. His knack for finding the net in big matches saw him score 10 goals in 10 cup finals, terrorize Arsenal with a consistency that seemed almost scripted, and had him referred to as “the most powerful striker the Premier League has seen.” Perhaps more vital to Chelsea than even his goals was his ability to motivate the players in the dressing room. Many former Chelsea players have pointed to Drogba as an immense locker room presence, capable of taking the younger players under his wing or exercising the leadership qualities vital to a team in a grueling tournament like the Champions League. Though he left twice, his last departure was as storybook as one could imagine, as he was carried off the field by his teammates.
2. Frank Lampard – Lampard has been a loyal servant of Chelsea since joining the club in the summer of 2002 from West Ham United. Known for his talents as a box-to-box midfielder, Lampard is also well-known for his scoring ability, as he is Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer (203 goals). He is also the only Premier League player to score against 39 of the 46 clubs ever to feature in the top flight of English soccer. Lampard left Chelsea in 2014, joining Manchester City for a season ahead of his move to Major League Soccer. While playing against Chelsea, Lampard scored a crucial equalizer in typical fashion: arriving late in the box and getting on the end of a cross. One of the players to feature in the entirety of the 2012 Champions League final in Munich, Lampard embodies the spirit of the Chelsea faithful and will forever be a fan legend.
1. John Terry – Affectionately given the tagline, “Captain, Leader, Legend,” Terry has been the Chelsea skipper for 11 years, given the title by incoming manager Mourinho in the summer of 2004. Joining in 1998, Terry has seen it all with Chelsea, enduring managerial changes, heartbreaks and successes in the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup, Champions League and Europa League. Many fans of Chelsea’s rivals will recall his missed penalty which gifted the 2008 Champions League to Manchester United, but he’ll likely think more about hoisting the trophy in 2012 (despite missing the final due to suspension). Now indisputably in the twilight of his career, Terry is featuring far less frequently for Mourinho’s Chelsea, but even when he’s not starting he exemplifies what it means to wear the club colors. He will forever remain a legend at the club.