The best 25-man squad of the Roman Abramovich era

What players from our ‘golden generation’ have made it?

By Terry Sazio

To say Chelsea Football Club changed for the better when Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich arrived will be one of the biggest understatements you’ll ever know.

It’s 2003, and Chelsea – despite qualifying for the UEFA Champions League by beating Liverpool 2-1 at home in the final game of the 2002-03 Premier League season – was pretty much broke.

Although the club had prospered over the recent years, the club had built up debts that were estimated to be as high as £80m. Chelsea securing Champions League football for the forthcoming season pretty much made sure the club would see another season of football. But they needed much more than that.

Simply put… they needed a financial miracle.

July 2nd 2003… It happened.

Photo Source: The Times

After talks with long-time Chairman Ken Bates, Abramovich completed the surprise takeover in a deal worth £140m –  the biggest in British football history for its time.

“We are delighted to agree this deal to acquire what is already one of the top clubs in Europe. We have the resources and ambition to achieve even more given the huge potential of this great club.”

Roman Abramovich

For Abramovich and the entire Chelsea fanbase, the (hopeful) glory days were about to begin. Nearly 16 years later… those days did happen.

• 5 Premier League Titles (2004-05, 05-06, 09-10, 14-15, 16-17)
• 5 FA Cups (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2017)
• 3 League Cups (2004-05, 06-07, 14-15)
• 2 FA Community Shields (2005, 2009)
• 1 UEFA Champions League (2011-12)
• 1 UEFA Europa League (2012-13)

I was hopeful for silverware and success (and for more in the future) in the Abramovich era, but never beyond my wildest dreams did I ever think that the club would be this successful. I still pinch myself to this day just to make sure this is real.

For all this success, we must have had a good amount of decent players to help us get to those promised lands, right?

Trust me, they were more than just decent. They were legendary. They were (are) true icons of our wonderful club.

Photo Source: The Sunday Times

In the near 16 years since he bought the club, Abramovich has spent (with expenditure taken into account) just shy of £819m on players alone, with well over £1bn spent on the club as a whole, both on and off the pitch (Stamford Bridge improvements, Cobham training facility, etc).

When mentioning players, let’s just say quite a few have worn the blue jersey in a competitive nature (whether bought during or already at the club before) under the reign of our Russian billionaire owner.

One hundred and fifty-seven… to be precise.

Many came and went, some succeeded, very few created history.

With this in mind, I started to think about who are the best players to play for us in this era. I could have easily made a top 10 list, top 20 even.

But I wanted to create something unique.

I decided to pick the best 25 players to play for us in the last fifteen-plus years and create the best 25-man squad of the Roman Abramovich era. Some could arguably say, in our history… ever.

In this five-part feature series, I’ll be looking at all types of position (GK, FB, CB, DM, CM, AM, WG, CF) and decide – from a personal perspective – who are the best players to have played in those positions.

Did these four make the squad? Well…the question you should be asking actually is who were the others to join them in it?

But this also comes with a twist. Remember a few weeks when we set up a few polls over on our Chelsea Echo Twitter account about who were the best players to play in each position? The results of those WILL BE INCLUDED TOO!

So, you will see the player that I chose for each position and the player that you chose via the polls.

The starting line-up will hypothetically be playing in a 4-3-3 formation, as that has been the most used formation in this era. You will also see a substitutes’ bench consisting of seven players, along with seven more who didn’t make the bench but help to complete the squad(s).

To give you a sneak peek at what to expect from yours truly, here’s a very general idea of who makes my 25-man squad. My squad consists of three goalkeepers, seven defenders (4 centre-backs and 3 full-backs), eight midfielders and seven forwards (3 strikers and 4 wingers). Have a rough idea on who’ll it be? Not sure even? Don’t worry, all will be revealed over the next few days.

Before we begin and announce what players made not just the 25-man squad(s) – but the starting line-up too – let me give you a few parameters as to how these players got into the ‘conversation’ so to speak:

• Length of Chelsea career – How long were they at the club?
• Iconic moments – moments that will forever be etched in the history of our club.
• Success – How successful they were at the club and how much they contributed to that.
• Popularity – Simply put, how much they mean(t) to the fans.
• Lasting legacy – How important they became to the club, even after (or will in the future) when their time at Chelsea eventually ended.

So, with further ado… Let’s begin revealing who made into The best 25-man squad of the Roman Abramovich era’.

Starting with…

12 goalkeepers have stood between the posts to be Chelsea’s last line of defence under Roman Abramovich. Some have been good, some have not (remember Marco Ambrosio and Lenny Pidgeley?). Three in particular though contributed more than just clean sheets…

PETR ČECH

Photo Source: FourFourTwo

Joined – July 2004
Signed from – Rennes (£7m)
Appearances – 494 (Sixth on the Blues’ all-time appearance list)
Clean sheets – 228 (Club record – inc. most clean sheets in a PL season)

What has not been said already about Petr Cech?

As a goalkeeper, he gave his absolute all to the club. A bargain £7m (an absolute steal in today’s inflated market) signing from Rennes in 2004 and for the next 11 years before leaving for Arsenal in 2015, Cech became the cornerstone of our team as an immovable object during Chelsea most successful period in its history. 

He was the ultimate professional, dedicated to his craft and always searching for ways to improve and become even better than he already was. Cech is arguably the prototype of what you want from a goalkeeper.

Best Moment – 2012 Champions League Final (vs Bayern Munich)

The 2012 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich was not only the greatest night in Chelsea’s history but also the pinnacle of Cech’s magnificent career. Didier Drogba will always be remembered for scoring the winning penalty in the shootout in the Allianz Arena – Bayern’s home ground by the way – but if it wasn’t for Cech’s 3 penalty saves from Arjen Robben, Ivica Olić and Bastian Schweinsteiger in extra time and shootout combined, Chelsea would have suffered heartbreak for the second time in the biggest match in European football.

Honours
Premier League – 2004-05, 05-06 09-10, 14-15
FA Cup – 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012
League Cup – 2004-05, 06-07, 14-15
FA Community Shield – 2005, 2009
UEFA Champions League – 2011-12
UEFA Europa League – 2012-13
Chelsea Player of the Year – 2011
Premier League Golden Glove – 2004-05, 09-10, 13-14
PFA Team of the Year – 2004-05, 13-14
Best European Goalkeeper – 2005, 2007, 2008
UEFA Club Football Awards (Best Goalkeeper) – 2005, 2007, 2008
UEFA Team of the Year – 2005

THIBAUT COURTOIS

Photo Source: Getty Images

Joined – July 2011
Signed from – Genk (£7.8m)
Appearances – 154
Clean sheets – 58 

Despite leaving the club in an acrimonious manner last summer, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Thibaut Courtois contributed a great deal as our goalkeeper in the four seasons he represented our club.

An excellent shot-stopper, Courtois also showed great levels of concentration and dominance of the penalty area whenever he was called upon.

For all the good he gave, it’s just a shame it will be forever overlooked due to his actions which lead to his £31.5m transfer to Real Madrid before the start of the 2018-19 season.

Best Moment – vs Sunderland (Premier League), December 2016

If there was one match as to why Chelsea was patient enough to wait three years before Courtois made his debut, it was this match.

Simply put, the Belgian became a brick wall as Sunderland bombarded him with chance after chance after chance. No matter what ‘The Black Cats’ threw at him, he was simply unbeatable. His injury-time save from Patrick van Aanholt was enough to justify buying him from Genk five years previous.

Honours
Premier League – 2014-15, 16-17
FA Cup – 2018
League Cup – 2014-15
Premier League Golden Glove – 2016-17

CARLO CUDICINI

Photo Source: Guardian

Joined – July 1999
Signed from – Castel di Sangro (£300k)
Appearances – 208
Clean sheets – 97

A virtual unknown when signed from Serie C1 side Castel di Sangro, Carlo Cudicini was one of the most underrated acquisitions in Chelsea’s history

For a goalkeeper with incredible shot-stopping ability, remarkably quick reflexes and an expert in penalty saving… the £300,000 spent on the Italian would end being an absolute bargain. In today’s game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cudicini went for at least £50m. He was that good.

Best Moment – vs Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League), March 2008

In the unforgettable 4-4 draw against Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea – despite taking the lead on three separate occasions – almost lost the match in the dying stages at White Hart Lane.

Thankfully for the Blues, Cudicini made sure a point was secured with an incredible last-gasp save to deny Dimitar Berbatov scoring the match-winning goal for the hosts. A ‘heart in your mouth’ moment right there.

Honours
FA Cup – 2000, 2007
FA Community Shield – 2000, 2005
Chelsea Player of the Year – 2002

WHO IS THE NUMBER ONE GOALKEEPER?

All 3 were amazing goalkeepers, who contributed so much to the club and who each left a lasting legacy in their own unique way. But as we can only pick one to make the starting line-up, my number one goalkeeper is…

Petr Cech.

Did you honestly think it would be anyone else?

Not only of the best goalies to have played in the Premier League and one of the best of all time – but the best to have ever played for Chelsea Football club. Quite simply, Cech was an absolute phenomenon for us.

‘Big Pete’ won the battle to get into my team. But who did you vote for?

And the readers’ poll winner is:

Petr Cech – 96%
(Other results: Thibaut Courtois – 3%, Carlo Cudicini – 1%)

Not surprised at all. Cech thoroughly deserves your choice. Despite how successful the other two goalies mentioned were and what moments they created, there was only one real contender for the accolade of being the best goalkeeper to have played in our golden generation.

THE 25-MAN SQUAD & STARTING LINE-UP

MY personal 25-man squad and starting line-up (so far)

So Petr Cech has turned out to be both my choice and yours for the number one jersey in the best-25 man squad of the Roman Abramovich era. Courtois will have to make do (not a bad back up though, right?) with being our substitute goalie and Cudicini will be a fantastic representative of the goalkeeper demographic in the rest of the squad.

YOUR personal 25-man squad and starting line-up (so far)

Join me tomorrow as I reveal who earned the defensive spots of Left-Back, Right-Back and Centre-Back in our squads.

Part 2The Defenders
Part 3The Midfielders
Part 4The Forwards
Part 5The Squad/Starting Line-Up & The Manager

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