Since the Premier League was founded in 1992, Chelsea have welcomed some of football’s biggest names to Stamford Bridge, and it was in 1996 that things really started to ramp up to another level.
With player-manager Ruud Gullit at the helm, Chelsea managed to lure a number of top players over to Stamford Bridge. Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo were two of the first, and they were soon joined by the likes of Tore Andre Flo and Gus Poyet, who helped the Blues to a memorable League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup double in the 1997/98 season.
Since then, Chelsea‘s squad has usually been full to the brim with exciting players, so narrowing them all down to an ultimate Premier League-era XI is no easy task, but Three gave 90min the chance to sit down with Flo, Poyet and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to challenge them to do exactly that.
“Starting with goalkeeper, if it’s just from who I played with, it’s [Carlo] Cudicini for sure,” Hasselbaink begins, but he quickly accepts Poyet’s suggestion that current technical and performance advisor Petr Cech deserves the nod.
“Petr Cech is one of my bosses, so I have to!” adds Flo, who currently works as a technical coach for the Blues’ loan players.
At centre-back, there’s an easy answer – John Terry, who played alongside all three when he first broke through to the senior squad in 1998, and he’s joined by legendary Frenchman Marcel Desailly, who Poyet believes often doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
“When there was a big game, you knew 100% that Marcel was there,” Hasselbaink says. “But when there was a small game, he’d be a little more [relaxed] because he knew the others would pick up. But cup finals, against Manchester United, against rivals, in the Champions League, you know he’s there.”
Ashley Cole is the easy answer at left-back, but over at right-back, names like Albert ‘Chapi’ Ferrer, Branislav Ivanovic and William Gallas are thrown around, but after plenty of discussion, it’s Paulo Ferreira who gets the nod.
Moving up to the midfield trio, it’s the ‘unbelievable’ Claude Makelele who gets the first spot. The Frenchman starred for Chelsea between 2003 and 2008, and since his time at the Bridge, the deep midfield spot has often been known as ‘the Makelele role’.
Current boss Frank Lampard joins him in the middle, and in what Hasselbaink described as a ‘very attacking’ 4-3-3, Zola is chosen too – with the legends desperate to find a way to fit the Italian into the team.
“We’re going to show the world that we attack!” Poyet exclaims, joining in with Hasselbaink’s idea of “attacking, but beautiful”.
Zola was a candidate to play on the right wing, but instead, Arjen Robben makes it on to the team sheet, and he slots in alongside club legends Didier Drogba and Eden Hazard, both of whom are written down with very little need for discussion.
Poyet ends by apologising to the countless stars who missed out on the team – Graeme Le Saux, Michael Essien and Ferrer are three of many – but they know full-well that there are simply too many big names to choose between.