Chelsea's first XI of the Abramovich era - Where are they now?

It was confirmed last week that Roman Abramovich is actively looking to end his near 19-year ownership of Chelsea Football Club.

Under the stewardship of 55-year-old, the Blues have enjoyed the most successful spell in their history. Since Abramovich purchased the club for £140 million in July 2003, Chelsea have won the Premier League on five occasions, as well as the Champions League twice.

When Abramovich first arrived in west London, however, Chelsea had yet to qualify outright for that coming season’s edition of Europe’s top club competition.

As a result, in their new owner’s first game at the helm, Chelsea faced a trip to the Slovakian town of Zilna to take on local side MSK in the first-leg of a Champions League qualification tie.

Keen to ensure safe passage through to the competition proper, then Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri fielded a strong starting line-up, featuring no less than five new signings recruited in the weeks prior by billionaire Abramovich.

In light of recent developments, we’ve decided to take a look at what each player who started that historic game for Chelsea is up to today.

Where are they now? Chelsea’s starting XI v MSK Zilna, August 13, 2003

GK: Carlo Cudicini

Chelsea’s first-choice shot-stopper at the time of Abramovich’s takeover, Cudicini would lose that role to Petr Cech within 12 months.

The Italian did remain at Stamford Bridge in a back-up capacity until 2009, when he moved across London to join Tottenham.

After three years at Spurs, he ventured across the Atlantic for a spell with LA Galaxy, where he ultimately hung up his gloves in 2014.

Post-retirement, Cudicini is one of a number of former Blues’ players who have returned to the club in a coaching role.

Having previously served as a club ambassador and a first-team coach under Antonio Conte, Cudicini today works as a technical coach for Chelsea’s vast network of loan players.

LONDON – DECEMBER 26: Carlo Cudicini of Chelsea celebrates during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Charlton Athletic and Chelsea on December 26, 2003 at The Valley in London, England. Charlton Athletic won the match 4-2. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

RB: Glen Johnson

The first official signing of the Abramovich era, Johnson made his Chelsea debut in the visit to Zilna following a £6m switch from West Ham in mid-July 2003.

An England international, Johnson went on to represent the Blues on 71 occasions, before he joined Portsmouth for £4m in August 2007.

Johnson also had spells at Liverpool and Stoke City prior to his January 2019 retirement.

The 37-year-old is certainly keeping himself busy these days, balancing interests in a financial investment company, a real estate business and an event planning service with occasional punditry work for the likes of talkSPORT and the BBC.

LONDON – AUGUST 26: Glen Johnson of Chelsea running with the ball during the UEFA Champions League Third Round, second leg Qualifier match between Chelsea and MSK Zilina on August 26, 2003 at Stamford Bridge in London, England. Chelsea won the match 3-0. (Photo By Ben Radford/Getty Images)

CB: John Terry

A true Chelsea legend, Terry served as the club’s vice-captain during Abramovich’s first season in charge.

Taking over the armband for the following campaign, Terry led Chelsea to a staggering haul of trophies, including all five of the Premier League titles won in their history.

Fittingly, after many years of loyal service, Terry was given a heartfelt send-off when he departed Stamford Bridge at the end of the 2016/17 season.

Going on to conclude his playing career at Aston Villa, Terry became assistant manager under Dean Smith at Villa Park after hanging up his boots.

Terry moved on from that role in July 2021, after which he took a break from the game.

In January of this year, Terry returned to the Chelsea fold as he accepted a position as an academy coaching consultant.

LONDON – SEPTEMBER 13: John Terry of Chelsea running with the ball during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur on September 13, 2003 at Stamford Bridge in London, England. Chelsea won the match 4-2. (Photo By Harry How/Getty Images)

CB: Marcel Desailly

Former France international centre-back Desailly spent just one season as a Chelsea player under Abramovich’s reign.

A move to Qatar followed in 2004, where he would play for two years until calling time on his playing days in 2006.

Today, Desailly can be found carrying out punditry duties, most frequently for beIN SPORTS.

LONDON – AUGUST 5: Marcel Desailly of Chelsea running with the ball during the pre-season friendly match between Watford and Chelsea on August 5, 2003 at Vicaridge Road, London, England. Chelsea won the match 4-1. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images).

LB: Wayne Bridge

Another fresh recruit in the wake of Abramovich’s arrival, Bridge managed just 87 Premier League appearances for the Blues across his six years with the club – and was rarely first-choice during that period.

A similarly frustrating spell at Manchester City followed for Bridge, who had various loan spells away from the Etihad, before finally retiring in 2014 after departing Reading.

Since then, Bridge has been more visible for his activities outside the game than within it. He married pop singer Frankie Sandford of The Saturdays shortly after calling time on his career and went on to appear on popular reality TV shows I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and SAS: Who Dares Wins.

In 2018, Bridge even participated in a boxing match to benefit Sport Relief against Made In Chelsea star Spencer Matthews – which he won convincingly.

Now a father of three, family life keeps Bridge occupied in between occasional media engagements.

LIVERPOOL – AUGUST 17: Wayne Bridge of Chelsea running down the wing with the ball during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Liverpool and Chelsea on August 17, 2003 at Anfield in Liverpool, England. Chelsea won the match 2-1. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

DM: Geremi

A key member of Ranieri’s side in the initial stages of Abramovich’s ownership, hard-working Cameroon midfielder Geremi became much more of a fringe player in the three further seasons he spent at the club.

A 2007 move to Newcastle saw him remain in England, but he rounded out his career with brief spells in both Turkey and Greece.

Post-retirement, Geremi became a board member at FIFPRO, where he now works helping young African footballers achieve their potential in the game.

GELSENKIRCHEN – DECEMBER 9: Geremi of Chelsea passes the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Besiktas and Chelsea on December 9, 2003 at Arena Aufshalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Chelsea won the match 2-0. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

RM: Juan Sebastian Veron

A sensational talent at his best, things really didn’t pan out for Veron in the Premier League. After a tough two-year stint at Manchester United, the Argentina midfielder moved to west London in a £15m deal following the arrival of Abramovich.

Regrettably, Veron fared little better at Stamford Bridge, making just 14 appearances, before being shipped out on loan to Inter Milan for a couple of years.

A further loan to Argentine side Estudiantes followed, where Veron is still involved today – as chairman of the club!

Taking on the role after retiring in 2014, Veron made a brief comeback in 2017 after promising fans that he would play for the club once more if they purchased a specified percentage of the hospitality boxes at the club’s stadium.

Supporters smashed the goal Veron set, leading to the player making five further appearances for the team.

LIVERPOOL – AUGUST 17: Juan Sebastian Veron of Chelsea looks on with his hands on his hips during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Liverpool and Chelsea on August 17, 2003 at Anfield in Liverpool, England. Chelsea won the match 2-1. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

LM: Damien Duff

One of Abramovich’s first acts in the transfer market after purchasing Chelsea was to trigger the £17m release clause in the contract of tricky Blackburn winger Duff.

Duff went on to play 125 times for the Blues across the next three seasons, before departing for Newcastle.

A move back to west London with Fulham followed in 2009, after which Duff had brief stints with Melbourne City and Shamrock Rovers to bring his playing career to a close in 2015.

Duff then became a coach at Rovers and later took on similar roles with both Celtic and Ireland. That experience led to him being offered his first managerial opportunity at League of Ireland Premier Division side Sherbourne FC last November, where he remains in charge today.

WATFORD, ENGLAND – AUGUST 5: Damien Duff (L) of Chelsea celebrates with Frank Lampard after scoring during the pre-season friendly match between Watford and Chelsea on August 5, 2003 at Vicarage Road, Watford, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

AM: Frank Lampard

We’ve already learned that several members of Chelsea’s starting XI against Zilna returned to the club in non-playing capacities after retirement, but club icon Lampard went one step further when he was appointed Blues’ manager in July 2019.

Lampard had a wondeful career on the pitch at Stamford Bridge where he grabbed a club record 211 goals in 648 appearances. However, he wasn’t able to replicate that success in the dugout and was dismissed after only 18 months in the job.

Lampard returned to management with Everton in January of this year, where he’s currently attempting to lift the Toffees away from the threat of relegation.

LONDON – JANUARY 28: Frank Lampard of Chelsea celebrates the third goal during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Chelsea and Leeds United held on January 28, 2003 at Stamford Bridge, in London. Chelsea won the match 3-2. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)

CF: Eidur Gudjohnsen

Scorer of Chelsea’s first-ever competitive goal under Abramovich, Gudjohnsen gave the Blues a first-half lead in Zilna from which they never looked back.

Three years later, he departed for Barcelona, where he won a host of honours, before leaving in 2009.

Gudjohnsen then represented 11 clubs in eight years as he became something of a footballing nomad, ultimately hanging up his boots in 2017.

Most recently, Gudjohnsen served as assistant manager for the Icelandic national side, before stepping down last year.

WOLVERHAMPTON – SEPTEMBER 20: Eidur Gudjohnsen of Chelsea running with the ball during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea on September 20, 2003 at Molineux in Wolverhampton, England. Chelsea won the match 5-0. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

CF: Mikael Forssell

In his seven years at Chelsea, Finnish striker Forssell had no less than five separate loan spells.

Only managing 12 goals in 53 appearances across all competitions in that time, Forssell was hardly prolific in west London. This Champions League tie marked one of the few European matches he play for the club.

Truthfully, he didn’t find too much form elsewhere after he left Chelsea, either.

Calling a halt to his career in 2018, Forssell now works as an academy coach at former club HJK in his home nation.

KUALA LUMPUR – JULY 25: Mikael Forssell of Chelsea in action during the F.A. Premier League Asia Cup match between Malaysia and Chelsea held on July 25, 2003 at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Chelsea won the match 4-1. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)

Chelsea would claim a 2-0 victory in Zilna, before going on to win the second leg of the tie 3-0 at home.

Their 2003/04 Champions League journey took them all the way to the semi-final, where they were defeated 5-3 on aggregate by Monaco.

Abramovich would have to wait a further eight years before Roberto DiMatteo finally delivered him the trophy in 2012.

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