In the third part of a new series chronicling the greatest-ever players at Europe’s biggest clubs, Football Weeks lists the top five in the Chelsea hall of fame. Taking into account factors such as individual brilliance, impact on the team, overall achievement and staying power, we rank the outstanding performers, in reverse order.
5. Didier Drogba 2004-2012 and 2014-15 (382 appearances)
If you were to design a prototype centre-forward on a laptop, he would be something like Drogba at his peak. Tall, strong as an ox and fast as a whippet, he had all the physical qualities to terrorise a defence.
On his day he was unstoppable, the one-man strikeforce who was as adept at holding the ball up as running in behind. Yet perhaps his greatest single quality was not his considerable skill-set but his self-belief. Drogba will be cherished by Chelsea fans not for his performances in the routine matches but the series of outstanding displays when it mattered the most.
The bigger the occasion, the better he performed. At Wembley, Cardiff, in semi-finals and finals, but most of all in Munich. There were many heroes in blue that night but Chelsea would have been valiant runners-up were it not for Drogba’s point-blank refusal to ever give up. It will go down as the single most influential performance in the club’s history.
4. Peter Osgood 1964-1974 (380 appearances)
A man and player of his time, the ‘King of Stamford Bridge’ epitomised the cavalier strut of a fantastically entertaining side who were never in any doubt about their eligibility for A-list billing. ‘Ossie’ was good and he knew it.
So did everyone apart from, it seemed, Alf Ramsay, who was said to disapprove of his playboy lifestyle. Osgood’s work-hard, play-hard philosophy made him even more popular with a fanbase with whom he instantly connected after graduating from the club’s youth-team set-up.
A tall No9 with the power of a blacksmith and the touch of a surgeon, Osgood was a thoroughbred as comfortable in the air winning headers as he was sure with both feet. Like so many of the great players, he played in an unhurried manner.
3. John Terry 1998-2015 (665 appearances)
A one-club institution whose influence remains as colossal as ever. His many indiscretions and the antipathy he stirs among opposing fans do not invalidate his qualities as a player.
Terry has been a defensive powerhouse for over a decade-and-a-half, combining British qualities of bravery, reliability and indomitable spirit with a Continental technique and understanding of the game. Not only is he a dominant figure in his own penalty box but a huge goal-scoring threat in the opposition box.
Appeared to be fading into the background under Rafael Benitez but his career has been rejuvenated by Jose Mourinho and, in his 35th year, he continues to set the bar for Premier League centre-backs.
2. Gianfranco Zola 1996-2003 (312 appearances)
Outside of their west London enclave, Chelsea were not renowned for their popularity pre and post-Abramovoich. But this Italian maestro possessed enough charm and dignity to partially obscure some of the club’s less palatable aspects.
His sportsmanship and warmth left an unforgettable impression on the English game, but he was as potent as he was likeable. A second striker to rank with Dennis Bergkamp as the finest of the Premier League era, he possessed consummate technical gifts and the wit and sharpness of mind to make the most of them.
A lethal finisher and dead-ball expert, he was also the ultimate team player whose every act was done to serve the best interests of the collective.
1. Frank Lampard 2001-2014 (648 appearances)
Spent an entire career proving doubters wrong – that he was overweight, fast-tracked by nepotism, scored fluky goals and lacked mobility. Of course the insults were nonsense.
But they spurred Lampard to dredge as much from his talent as any English-born player can ever have done. At his peak, he displayed remarkable powers of recovery and resilience, playing virtually every match under each of Chelsea’s many managers during the Roman Abramovich era. His qualities were timeless.
Tactically astute with a wide passing range and a formidable engine, he could dictate the pace of a game while maintaining the scoring record of a centre-forward. Even in his mid-30s, he remained a goal machine and the master of timing a penalty-box run to sniff out a scoring chance.