Chelsea became the richest club in world football when Roman Abramovich bought them in 2003 – and they wasted no time flexing their financial muscles.
Instead of diving into the transfer market, manager Claudio Ranieri dived headfirst and spent £ 120m on a variety of signings. The Premier League had never seen anything like it and would never be the same again.
But how did these newcomers come about? We ranked the 14 players Chelsea bought in their first season under Abramovich from worst to best.
14. Adrian Mutu
Getting fired for being caught using cocaine probably wasn’t what someone had in mind when Chelsea paid £ 15.8 million for Mutu.
The player was later asked to pay £ 15m in damages to the Blues, which Chelsea was waiting for in October 2018.
The bitter ending is a shame considering Mutu was quite a gamer on his day …
– Chad ⭐⭐ (@ChelseaChadder) 23 August 2018
13. Juan Sebastian Veron
You have to wonder why Chelsea looked at Veron’s performances at Manchester United and thought he would be the perfect match in midfield.
He scored on his Liverpool debut but that was as good as it could get. After only 15 appearances, Veron was loaned to Inter Milan in 2004 and never played for the club again.
A clear example of having more money than meaning.
12. Jürgen Macho
He came, he suffered a serious long-term injury, he left without a first-team appearance.
Still, macho was at least free.
11. Neil Sullivan
Sullivan was signed after Macho’s injury and played eight games for Chelsea without ever hinting that he would usurp first-choice goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.
However, as a solid Premier League player with Wimbledon and Tottenham, the £ 500,000 takeover was as close as possible to a risk-free deal.
10. Marco Ambrosio
Signing three goalkeepers in the same window smells like indulgence – almost like Chelsea won the lottery or something …
But the decision turned out to be wise after Cudicini sustained a string of injuries that excluded him for much of the season.
Ambrosio was the best of his successors. His biggest contribution was the string of saves that helped Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Even so, Ambrosio was released in the summer of 2004.
9. Alexey Smertin
Ranieri signed Smertin from Bordeaux for £ 3.5million but immediately loaned him to Portsmouth for the 2003/04 season.
He returned to Stamford Bridge but played only a minor role in Mourinho’s 2004-05 imperial roster, largely due to fierce competition for a midfield spot.
Although Smertin made enough appearances to win a Premier League winners medal, Smertin was ultimately deemed redundant and was sold to Dynamo Moscow in 2006.
8. Scott Parker
Good player, but Parker never really showed that at Stamford Bridge.
The midfielder cost £ 10m from Charlton in January 2004 but the presence of Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele limited his options.
Mourinho’s arrival didn’t change matters and Parker was limited to appearances in the League Cup.
Chelsea received £ 6.5m from Newcastle in July 2005 for Parker who played his potential at a number of clubs.
7th Glen Johnson
Johnson was the Abramovich-era first signing when Chelsea rushed over the corpse of relegated West Ham to secure the £ 6million full-back.
He was a regular starter in his debut season at Stamford Bridge, playing 32 games in all competitions, but under Mourinho the first-team chances were harder to come by.
Johnson shone at Portsmouth and Liverpool later in his career, but his time at Chelsea was ultimately frustrating.
6. Wayne Bridge
His winner at Highbury ensured that Bridge will always be fondly remembered by Chelsea fans.
📆 #OTD In 2004 Wayne Bridge felt the away game at Highbury wild! 🙌
A classic duel across London when Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals pic.twitter.com/OkHWcddeIg
– Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 6, 2021
5. Hernan Crespo
Crespo may not have lived up to the high expectations of him, but he was a lot better than many people remember.
READ: Hernan Crespo was far from a Chelsea flop – just look at these miracles
“In my team, I love having Geremi on the bench because he’s an inconspicuous player who is ready to help, ready to fight for the team, ready to do the job I want him to do.
“If I need him to play right-back, he can play right-back. If I need him to play right winger, he can play right winger. If I need him to pick up a man and remove him from the game, he does it.
Any player who gets a sounding endorsement from Mourinho has got to do something right and 109 club appearances suggest that Geremi made a positive impression at Chelsea.
3. Damien Duff
It’s kind of forgotten how good Duff was in the early 2000s.
He became one of the league’s most exciting offensive talents at Blackburn, and his form piqued the interest of Manchester United and Arsenal – until the newly-earned Chelsea activated their £ 17.1m release clause.
Duff was instrumental in Chelsea’s runner-up in 2004, dovetailed wonderfully with Arjen Robben, and remains an incredibly popular figure at Stamford Bridge.
READ: We remember Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and a Chelsea team that is the most fun
2. Joe Cole
West Ham’s relegation in 2003 meant they had to sell the family silver and Chelsea took advantage of their rival’s bad luck to sign Cole for £ 6.6million.
Many believe that Cole’s natural abilities were compromised under Mourinho, but another mindset suggests that the coach instituted some tactical discipline that meant his talent could be used for the good of the team.
The playmaker had the most fruitful period of his career under Mourinho’s management, scoring the best eleven goals of his career in the 2005/06 season.
He was released in 2010 and it’s safe to say that Cole’s Chelsea got their money’s worth.
1. Claude Makelele
The loss of Makelele was the beginning of the end for the Galacticos at Real Madrid – and the beginning of Chelsea’s imperial phase.
Ranieri announced that Makelele would be his team’s “battery” after paying £ 16m for his services, and the French international was just that for five incredibly successful seasons at Stamford Bridge.
The man had a place named after him. No competition.
Appropriate moment, then, to remember the moment when Chelsea even let Claude Makelele try it out. Clinically. pic.twitter.com/czdQddHUuY
– Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) May 8, 2017
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