The five best Chelsea players before the Abramovich eraIt is no secret that Chelsea became a powerhouse in European football thanks to Roman Abramovich. The powerful Russian business tycoon bought the club in the summer of 2003 and went on to invest heavily in the squad on a regular, leading the Blues to win every single possible trophy at least once. It was that much of a success story.
However, while is true that Chelsea were never as good before Abramovich's arrival, it also has to be said that they were still a competitive side with some very interesting players over the years. In fact, Chelsea even won some international trophies before the Russian (more on that later).
So, who were the best Chelsea players before the Abramovich era? Let's find out.
5. Marcel Desailly (1998-2004)Desailly was one of the most successful and underrated players in the nineties. He had won everything in France with Marseille and also the UEFA Champions League (although not without controversies) and also did likewise with AC Milan for the remainder of the decade while also being part of the France side that won the 1998 World Cup held in their nation.
So, by the time he joined Chelsea in 1998, he was an established winner and there were a lot of claims that he was past his prime. However, the Frenchman, playing mostly as a center-back and as a sweeper in a back-three, proved that he still had what it takes to perform at a high level and led a very capable Chelsea during those years.
The former AC Milan player won a total of three trophies during his six years at Chelsea, which was quite an impressive feat because the Blues were not that used to that experience in those years. He also became the club's captain and served as an inspiration for several young players in the squad.
Sadly, the Chelsea faithful never fully saw him in his prime, but he was quite good, regardless. And the fact he left the club in 2004, a full year after Abramovich's arrival, was almost a passing of the torch event for the institution as a whole.
4. Graeme Le Saux (1997-2003)While Le Saux started as an academy player for Chelsea in the late eighties, he eventually was sold to Blackburn Rovers in 1993 and came back to Stamford Bridge in 1997. He is on this list mainly for what he did during his second stint at the club, which is going to be the focus here.
The English left-back was a youngster that helped Chelsea come back to the First Division after they won the Second Division in the 1988/89 season, although he would eventually be sold to Blackburn Rovers as the latter were investing heavily to challenge for trophies. Eventually, led by an amazing Alan Shearer, Blackburn won the 1994/95 Premier League trophy, with Le Saux being a regular starter and an important player to boot.
Eventually, Le Saux came back to Chelsea in the summer of 1997, now a much more seasoned player and with a lot of success on his back, becoming one of the key components of a team that would bring the club to challenge and compete for major accolades. Some of his best moments include defeating Stuttgart in the 1998 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final and defeating Real Madrid in the 1998 UEFA Super Cup.
He was one of the most underrated players at Chelsea and one of their finest academy products of all time.
3. Roberto Di Matteo (1996-2002)Nowadays, Roberto Di Matteo is mostly associated with him being the manager that led Chelsea to their first-ever UEFA Champions League in the 2011/12 season, but during his playing days, he was a full-blown legend for the club. However, that also had a bit of a tragic element.
The Italian midfielder was signed from Lazio in the summer of 1996, becoming a major stalwart in the team's midfield and he even scored in his debut, which was an example of things to come for him at the club. He was part of the "Italian revolution" at Chelsea during the mid-90s, which is a country that has gone on to become quite successful in the institution as both players and managers.
Di Matteo played regularly as one of their best players but he sadly sustained a major injury during a UEFA Cup match in the 2000/01 season, which kept him from playing for the remainder of said season, and eventually had to retire in February of 2002 at age 31. It is a shame because he probably would have played a lot more at Chelsea and increased his legend status even further.
2. Peter Osgood (1964-1974)The fact that this man has a statue outside of Stamford Bridge and is not very known to most Chelsea fans out there goes to show how underrated Peter Osgood has become. And considering that the man was nicknamed "The Wizard of Os" because of his amazing qualities as a player, that is saying a lot.
He was a product of the Chelsea academy in the early sixties, a phenomenal striker, and one of the first examples of the Blues having a top-class player in their ranks. Osgood became a leader for the club and guided them to win the 1970 FA Cup and the European Cup Winner's Cup in 1971 against Real Madrid, with the latter being Chelsea's first-ever international trophy.
An all-time great of Chelsea, no doubt.
1. Gianfranco Zola (1996-2003)Gianfranco Zola was always going to be the first place. He is the quintessential Chelsea player before Roman Abramovich's arrival and is so fitting that he retired from professional football in the summer of 2003, at the exact moment when the Russian arrived.
After great spells in his home country of Italy with the likes of Napoli and Parma, Zola signed for Chelsea in the summer of 1996 and became the symbol for the club's period of success for the remainder of the decade. They slowly became a club that could challenge for trophies and reach the UEFA Champions League and the Italian attacking midfielder was one of the key factors for that.
He was a talented midfielder whose technique, vision, and moments of genius made him an icon for the club. The fans nicknamed him "The Little Magician", which goes to show the level of appreciation and respect they had for him.