Chelsea: Roman Abramovich's best & worst signings

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It is in a sense hard to believe that it has been ten years since a Russian oligarch pitched up in west London to change the face of English football.

On July 1st 2003, Roman Abramovich, billionaire and owner of oil company Sibneft, awoke the sleeping giant that was Chelsea Football Club, after completing his purchase from Ken Bates for £140 million.

Since then, the affairs of the club have been anything but dull, as their owner has overseen three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, one UEFA Champions League and a Europa League title being delivered to SW6, whilst employing nine managers in the process, including interims.

But activities in the transfer market in this time have frequently caught the eye, notably the signings of Andriy Shevchenko in 2006 and Fernando Torres in 2011, which both broke the British transfer record at the time, for £30million and £50million respectively.

A total of £713 million has been spent on players during his tenure, and here we look at the great successes and disasters in the transfer market that have been commonplace in the decade of Abramovich rule at Stamford Bridge, analysing the best and worst acquisitions in each position.


Best: Petr Cech (£7million from Rennes)

We start with the easiest selection of the lot. The keeper from the Czech Republic was in fact a pre-arranged signing in the January transfer window in 2004, but arrived for the start of Jose Mourinho’s time in charge in the summer.

He was an instant success, as he managed to dislodge the Italian Carlo Cudicini as the Blues’ first choice between the sticks, setting a new record of going 1025 minutes without conceding a goal, as well as keeping a record 21 clean sheets on the way to the club’s first league title in 50 years.

Since then, he has dealt with a severe head injury sustained in a game at Reading in 2006, but has always been a regular fixture throughout all the club’s achievements.

Worst: Ross Turnbull (Free transfer from Middlesbrough)

To be fair to the north-eastern stopper, there has been only three goalkeeping additions in the last ten years, and the biggest reason for him being able to pip Henrique Hilario to the award is the Portuguese’s performances against Barcelona in the Champions League in 2006, which is the only thing that stands out about either player in their time at Chelsea.

He was about what you’d expect to pick up as a free transfer from a club who had just been relegated from the Premier League to sit on the bench, and he certainly can’t be accused of a lack of professionalism or effort in his four years at the club.

But his total 17 appearances in that time, including one against Inter Milan in the Champions League in 2010, are a sign that he was always going to be a back up choice to Cech before being released last month.


Best: Ashley Cole (£5million plus William Gallas from Arsenal)

He arrived in controversial circumstances after supposedly being “tapped up” by the club a year and a half earlier, but the full-back just edges Ricardo Carvalho and Branislav Ivanovic as the best defensive signing.

His reputation as the best left-back in the world was already cemented before the swap deal, which Abramovich and Mourinho would have seen as smart business given Gallas’ age and time left on his contract.

After going on to reach 100 England caps in 2013, Cole has proved doubting Arsenal fans that to leave north London was the right decision, certainly when comparing the number of trophies won by both clubs since 2006, which he has played a key role in.

Worst: Tal Ben Haim (Free transfer from Bolton)

The image of the Israeli centre-back being easily beaten by Torres, then playing for Liverpool in an early season game at Anfield in 2007, is the over-riding memory of a man who proved to be no threat to John Terry, Alex or Carvalho ahead of him in the pecking order.

From looking at his poor defensive positioning, pace and marking that he would have caused such a fuss, as Mourinho and the owner had a falling out over when to sign him from Bolton Wanderers.

Having waited against the manager’s wishes to sign him in the summer on a free transfer, he sadly lasted no longer than one season, before being sold to Manchester City.


Best: Claude Makelele (£16.8million from Real Madrid)

This was by far from the easiest decision to make in this article, as both Michael Essien and Michael Ballack ran the Frenchman close, but it is hard to think of a midfielder to wear the Chelsea shirt who had a better natural reading of the game.

He was already over 30 when signing in 2003, but it didn’t matter. The following five years were arguably the best of his career, as he constantly broke up attacks, while bringing the ball out of the defence calmly and efficiently.

Mourinho claimed at the end of the 2004-05 season that the best player in the team that year had in fact been Makelele, and that pays testament to the quality of the player in a year when Chelsea swept all before them to win their first Premier League title.

His presence has been missed in “the Makelele role” since leaving for Paris St Germain in 2008, and not many players can say they’ve had a position named after them, can they?

Worst: Steve Sidwell (Free transfer from Reading)

It’s fair to say that Abramovich’s budgeting plans in the summer of 2007 did not pay off, as here is another player who was signed on a free, but didn’t make it to a second season.

A product of Arsenal’s youth academy, the then 24 year-old had had a successful season with Reading after their promotion in 2006, but that was always going to be his limit.

He was a useful squad option at times, but simply had too much quality ahead of him to challenge for a regular starting berth, before being sold to Aston Villa in 2008.

Wingers/attacking midfielders

Best: Joe Cole (£6.6 million from West Ham)

He was once a show pony, but turned into the all round world-class professional in his stint at Chelsea between 2003 and 2010.

After signing from a recently relegated West Ham United, he was used as a squad player in his first season under Claudio Ranieri, struggling for consistency to go with his skill and flair.

But what Mourinho instilled in his game was the eagerness to track back, as well as being less selfish in front of goal.

Moments such as his delightful solo effort against Manchester United to help seal back to back titles in 2006, as well as hard graft and sublime acts of individual brilliance over seven years are what put him ahead of Juan Mata, who could well go on to surpass him in time.

Worst: Marko Marin (£7million from Werder Bremen)

The German has recently been loaned out to Seville and may be able to change opinions eventually on what has been a torrid time for the winger since signing from Werder Bremen in 2012.

Joining the club in the same summer as Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses was always going to make it for difficult to start in one of the three positions behind the striker, but in his mere 15 appearances so far, he has shown pace but little else.

A solitary goal against Wigan in the Premier League last February is the only stand-out moment in a season which he mainly spent on the bench or in the stands from being injured


Best: Didier Drogba (£24million from Marseille)

“He’s done it!”

That was the iconic piece of commentary from Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler, which described the Ivorian’s greatest moment in his eight years at Chelsea, when scoring the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich, after equalising in normal time.

There were some doubters over his at the time club record price tag when being signed in 2004, but a string of match winning displays, particularly in the Champions League, won his place in the hearts of Chelsea fans.

A goal return of 157 goals in 341 appearances identifies the impact he had on the club’s fortunes, and despite not always being a fans’ favourite, he won them all round in the end, and a striker of his quality may not be seen in the Premier League again for some time.

Worst: Adrian Mutu (£15.8million from Parma)

He promised so much when scoring four goals in his first three appearances for the club in 2003, but that was as good as it got for the Romanian.

Some may wish to see the Serbian Mateja Kezman placed on this list, but the difference between the two is the difference in levels of effort, commitment and willingness to have an effect on a game.

His sacking in September 2004 for testing positive for cocaine is what he is remembered for most, and his only legacy was the millions of pounds he owed the club after a long legal dispute followed his breach of contract.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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