In Focus: Chelsea Premier League legends, from Gianfranco Zola to John Terry
There have been few more successful teams in the Premier League era than Chelsea – and they have five titles to prove it.
But who are the biggest icons in modern Blues history? There are certainly plenty of contenders for a glittering era at Stamford Bridge.
Here are our five biggest King’s Road heroes.
Long before Roman Abramovich‘s takeover brought untold riches to west London, Chelsea had started to lead the way in bringing foreign talent into the English top flight.
Signed by Ruud Gullit for £4.5million in 1996, Gianfranco Zola arrived in London aged 30 after dazzling at Parma in his native country.
Described as a ‘smart kid’ by Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, Zola has hit double figures in five of his seven seasons with the Blues, despite playing as a No.10 or a it was removed.
A delicate and technically gifted striker with a penchant for special goals, Abramovich tried to tempt Zola to stay for another year – but he had given Cagliari his word that he would see a remarkable career with the Sardinians.
Petr Cech was a relative unknown when he joined the Blues from Rennes in 2004 – but that didn’t last long as he picked up 13 major accolades in west London.
By the time he left Stamford Bridge 11 years later, Cech had racked up a Premier League record number of clean sheets and won the Golden Glove three times.
He also required the fewest appearances (180) to reach 100 clean sheets, recorded more shutouts (24) in a single season than anyone and mustered a defense that conceded just 15 times under Jose Mourinho in 2004 -05.
Granted a move to London rivals Arsenal in 2015 – where he bagged another Golden Glove – Cech returned to Chelsea in 2019 for a three-year term as a technical adviser and briefly signed up as an emergency keeper during the coronavirus pandemic.
Author of the most memorable goal in Chelsea history, Didier Drogba’s place in the club’s pantheon of greats has not always been assured.
The Ivorian only managed 20 Premier League strikes once in his first five seasons at Stamford Bridge and has been regularly accused of play-acting.
But it all clicked in 2009-10 when he scored 29 goals and 37 in all competitions to inspire the West Londoners to a league and FA Cup double – two of the 12 major honors he won with the club.
His late header in the 2012 Champions League final forced extra time and penalties before converting the winner from the spot in his final outing before heading to China.
Drogba returned for an encore in 2014-15, winning another Premier League winners’ medal.
Mourinho’s appointment in 2004 changed the course of Chelsea’s history. But it also had a monumental impact on the career of Frank Lampard who, until then, had been a useful midfielder.
By the time he left Stamford Bridge in 2014, the Blues’ number 8 was the club’s all-time leading goalscorer – from central midfield, no less – winning three league titles, the Champions League, the Europa League , four FA Cups and two League Cups.
Vice-captain to John Terry, the ex-skipper believes his former team-mate is as good as Chelsea can be.
He said: “You talk about the Zolas and the best players to have played at the club, but for me it [Lampard] is the best.
“You can only choose two players to play consistently well and score goals over the last 10-15 years and that’s him and Ryan Giggs.”
The club’s most successful captain, Terry came through the Blues academy to win five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, the Champions League and the Europa League.
Another who benefited greatly from Mourinho’s tutelage, JT was the epitome of a leader and a warrior at Stamford Bridge – regularly stepping aside in the pursuit of excellence.
His longtime team-mate for club and country, Lampard, said: “In my opinion [Terry was] the best center half in world football for a long time.
“I think you might have taken John for granted, having someone so good behind you, and he often played on the left side directly behind me.”
Terry is simply Mr. Chelsea.