Chelsea is an interesting club. Granted they won the first division title in 1955, and a few cups spread throughout the years, but an extended period of success seemed to continually elude them, until the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003, and shortly after, “The Special One”, Jose Mourinho.
One thing is apparent though, Chelsea has had no shortage of incredible players during their 115-year history. Perhaps due to their glamorous west-London location, or maybe their passionate fans, the Blues have had no problems attracting the best of the best, and in this list, I’ll show you some of the finest players to ever represent this great club.
#10 - Eden Hazard
The selection of Hazard may be seen as controversial by some, but a slightly bitter departure should not cloud the fact that the Belgium winger enjoyed a hugely successful spell at Chelsea.
During 7 years at the club, Hazard helped the club to two Premier League’s, two Europa League’s, an FA Cup, and a League Cup, and firmly established himself as one of the world’s best players. It’s no wonder Real Madrid were so keen to sign the player, though Hazard has yet to recapture the form that made him such a threat at the blues.
Hazard was blessed with a real turn of pace, and his dribbling skills were a joy to behold. His highlight reel, simply put, is outrageous. If Premier League fans were disappointed to see a player like Hazard leave the league, Premier League defenders may have been slightly happier.
Surprisingly strong, and never afraid to get stuck in, or exchange words with rival players, Hazard made the physical Premier League his own, winning a number of individual awards during his time in west London.
Known primarily for his dribbling, Hazard was also a prominent goal threat, reaching double figures in the Premier League in 5 of the 7 seasons he featured for Chelsea. Hazard would ultimately go on to score 110 goals in 352 appearances for Chelsea, and is ninth in the club’s list of all-time goalscorers, further justifying his place on this list. All of this was in addition to assisting 54 times for the club in the Premier League alone.
Hazard was a threat from anywhere on the pitch, and defenders were never allowed a moment of peace when the Belgium flyer was on the ball. It’s hard to see players that you love leave, especially when still in the prime of their careers, but it’s tough to turn down Real Madrid, and time will help heal the blow. Ultimately, Hazard achieved great things at Chelsea, and in the end, this is what should be celebrated.
#9 - Peter Osgood
When there is a statue of you outside the ground where you made your name, you can be sure that that player made quite the impact. Peter Osgood did just that.
It’s a testament to how things have changed in soccer and the wider world that Osgood’s uncle had to write to Chelsea to secure a trial. Osgood took his chance, and scored twice on his debut for the club, a clear sign of things to come.
Osgood, like Didier Drogba many decades later, had a talent for scoring in important games, netting in major cup finals, 3 seasons in a row. He helped Chelsea win the European Cup Winners’ Cup, scoring in the final, and the final replay, as the blues held off the mighty Real Madrid. All of this was made more impressive by the fact that Osgood suffered a broken leg in 1966.
A serious injury now, it was even more worrying at this time, and could often lead to retirement, or a sharp decline in soccer abilities. Fortunately for Osgood, this wasn’t the case, and he kept scoring the goals that have led to his lofty place in Chelsea folklore. Being a young player in the 1960s and ’70s, Osgood enjoyed his life, and what came along with his fame, which didn’t always go down too well with the Chelsea management.
He was sold by the club in 1974 to Southampton, before returning for a brief spell at the end of his career. When all was said and done, Osgood scored 105 goals for the club, and as mentioned above, you can find his statue outside the West Stand at Stamford Bridge.
“The Wizard of Os,” as he’s fondly remembered, deserves his place in any list about Chelsea’s greatest players. He brought genuine hope to the club, scored important goal after important goal, and brought silverware Chelsea’s way. They don’t make statues for just anyone.
#8 - Ray Wilkins
The world of soccer was left devastated at Ray Wilkins’ untimely death in 2018, with many remembering his affable nature, and talents on the pitch. Wilkins only spent 6 years at Chelsea, but made many memories during this spell, made all the more remarkable at the fact Wilkins was just starting his career.
Wilkins had something about him, an aura if you will, and the powers that be at Chelsea certainly felt the same way, naming him captain at just 18 years old. The mid-1970s were tougher times for Chelsea, but Wilkins, and the young Chelsea team around him, managed to provide a much-needed boost to the club’s fans.
Chelsea was promoted back to the top flight under Wilkins’ captaincy, an impressive achievement considering the young age of both the captain and the players around him. Chelsea kept their place in the top division the next season, and Wilkins was well on his way to legendary status at the club.
Wilkins was a gifted reader of the game and a sublime passer of the ball. He didn’t score many, but he did score memorable goals and was called up for England while he was playing in division 2, a clear indication of just how good he was. He was named Chelsea’s player of the year during his spell at the club, and later on in his career, would return to the club as an assistant, and caretaker manager.
Ray Wilkins and the club had a special relationship, from the beginning to the end, and he’s as well known for his talents on the pitch, as his wonderful personality off it.
#7 - Ron Harris
Soccer was a different game in the 1960s and 1970s, a physical battle that would make modern players wince. It took a lot to get sent off, and players would often be forced to continue with injuries until substitutions were finally introduced into the soccer league in 1965. If ever a player was suited to these conditions, it was Chelsea great Ron Harris, AKA “Chopper”.
Harris took no prisoners and is still known as one of the most fearsome soccer players to ever play the game. He loved the physical style of soccer, which is a world away from the tiki-taka style that a number of teams play in this day and age.
“Chopper” is still beloved by Chelsea fans, and for good reason. He stuck with the club when they were twice relegated, and would play whatever position was asked of him. He is Chelsea’s record ever appearance maker, representing the Stamford Bridge club an incredible 795 times. Ron Harris is seen as one of the game’s foremost hard men, and is still a part of the Chelsea scene, delighting fans both old and new.
#6 - Peter Bonetti
“The Cat” sadly died in April 2020, allowing Chelsea fans to reminisce about one of their greatest ever goalkeepers. Bonetti has made the second-most appearances for the blues, with the aforementioned Ron Harris at number one in the list.
Bonetti did not fit your stereotypical view of a big, all imposing goalkeeper. He was all of 5ft 10 inches, weighing 11 stone for much of his career. Playing in the physical English leagues during the 60s and 70s, it’s a testament to how good Bonetti was, that he racked up all these appearances, and was viewed as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Bonetti was seen as being ahead of his time, focusing on quick distribution, something that is commonplace in today’s game.
Bonetti was brave, agile, and as proven by his number of appearances, durable. His performance in the 1970 FA Cup final against Leeds was one of the best in the competition’s history, finally bringing the trophy to west London. Bonetti, rather incredibly, conceded one goal or fewer in more than two-thirds of his Chelsea appearances, adding statistical evidence to what fans of the Stamford Bridge club already knew, “The Cat” was a special goalkeeper.
#5 - Petr Cech
From one great goalkeeper to another, Petr Cech is synonymous with Chelsea’s 21st-century success. Signed in 2004, it’s important to remember that Chelsea already possessed a great goalkeeper at this time, in the form of Carlo Cudicini.
Coming from the French league, Cech was somewhat of an unknown quality but soon established himself as the Chelsea number 1. Cech’s list of team and personal honors are beyond impressive, as he established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in world soccer.
4 Premier League’s, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, as well as a Champions League, and a Europa League. Cech’s performance in the Champions League final win against Bayern Munich, was a masterclass, as he saved a penalty in extra time, before saving two penalties in the shoot-out. After all the Premier League success, Cech had played a huge part in Chelsea’s elusive Champions League success.
Individually, Cech has won a number of goalkeeping awards and was part of the incredible Chelsea defense that conceded only 15 goals in the 2004/05 season. This is, in my opinion, one of the finest achievements in the Premier League, and Cech was the goalkeeper the Chelsea defense knew they could rely on. Cech also has the most clean sheets in Premier League history with 202, a number achieved during spells at Chelsea, and then Arsenal.
Standing at 6ft 5 inches, Cech was a significant physical presence, yet agile enough to not let his height become an issue. He read the game at a level rarely seen in the Premier League, and positionally, was without peer.
One of the most impressive aspects of the career of Petr Cech is the fact that he came back from a serious injury, to regain his place in the pantheon of great goalkeepers. It’s hard to remember a time where Cech didn’t wear his protective headgear, but this was the case, until his injury against Reading in 2006, where he suffered a depressed skull fracture.
Cech had no recollection of the injury, but came back arguably as good as ever. Chelsea lost his first game back, but then kept a simply incredible eight clean sheets in a row, with Cech marshaling the team as if he’d never been away. Cech was deservedly awarded the Premier League player of the month, which is quite a rare accolade for a goalkeeper.
No discussion of the Premier League’s best-ever goalkeepers is complete without mention of Cech, and Chelsea fans still hold the keeper in high esteem, despite him joining London rivals Arsenal. Cech is still heavily involved in dealings at Chelsea and was surprisingly named in their Premier League squad for the 2020 season as an emergency goalkeeper. You never know, maybe we’ll see Petr Cech back on the Stamford Bridge pitch. You don’t think Chelsea fans would begrudge it.
#4 - Didier Drogba
Signed for £24m from Marseille in 2004, it’s amazing to think now, that Drogba had a slow start to life as a Chelsea player. His first season was marred by injury and persistent claims of diving. Had manager Jose Mourinho made a mistake in bringing the Ivorian to Stamford Bridge? Well, it turns out, no he hadn’t.
Never truly prolific (he only scored more than 20 goals in a season twice for Chelsea,) Drogba was instead known as a scorer of important goals, your classic “Big-game player”. He scored in four separate FA Cup finals, and stole the show in the 2012 Champions League final, where he scored an 88th-minute equalizer against Bayern Munich with a fantastic header, and then went on to score the winning penalty in the shoot-out. Didier Drogba was the man for the big occasion.
At Stamford Bridge, he won Premier Leagues. He won FA and League Cups, and as mentioned, he was a vital part of the team that won the Champions League. Similarly to John Terry, Drogba experienced his own redemption after success in 2012. He had been sent off in the 2008 final defeat against Manchester United, which the Blues would lose on penalties. Drogba, Terry, and Chelsea were finally able to banish those demons, and Abramovich has his Champions League.
Drogba was a big personality in a Chelsea team full of them and meshed perfectly with manager Jose Mourinho, who was not shy in defending his charismatic striker. The Ivorian was strong, a beast in the air, and brilliant at holding the ball up, and bringing others into play. He is a classic Premier League striker, and his influence for Chelsea is huge, where he even returned for a second spell in 2014, naturally going on to win yet another Premier League.
He was carried off by his Chelsea teammates following an injury during his last Premier League appearance, which shows exactly how highly the club revere him. There is no doubt, the fans feel exactly the same way.
#3 - Gianfranco Zola
In the mid-’90s, there was a definite change in West London, with things becoming a lot more glamorous. Dutch legend Ruud Gullit was now the manager, and the club signed a number of continental players, which at the time in the Premier League, was quite rare. Gianfranco Zola, the diminutive Italian genius, was one of these players, and his impact was remarkable.
It’s worth remembering that Chelsea wasn’t the Premier League powerhouse that they are now, and the signing of Zola was seen as a bit of a coup for the blues. He made quite the impact in his first season at the club, leading the club to an FA Cup win. A standout performance against Manchester United, in which he scored, led to the then manager Sir Alex Ferguson labeling Zola as a “clever little so-and-so,” which is a nice way of summing him up.
Zola was also named Player of the Year in his first season, which was made even more impressive, by the fact that he didn’t play the whole season, having not signed until November of 1996. Zola’s arrival to the Premier League showed that players of smaller stature could still impact games, with his quick thinking, skill, and importantly set-piece prowess all key parts of his game, that made the Italian stand out.
Zola left the club just before Roman Abramovich and his millions role in town, but his impact on the club will be forever remembered. His goal against Norwich in the 2001/02 season is still revered for its brilliance. A backheeled effort, in mid-air nonetheless, was as incredible as it was innovative. The goal goes a long way to summing up the player, sheer genius.
In 2003, Chelsea fans voted him as their greatest ever player, and while he may have slipped down that list slightly, due to more recent success, there is no denying that Zola is a legend of both the club and the Premier League. He paved the way for others to follow and brought an injection of glamour to Stamford Bridge.
#2 - John Terry
“Captain, Leader, Legend”. I could easily leave this section on John Terry at those three words, as it perfectly sums up just what the player means to Chelsea fans. He was “Mr. Chelsea”, a player that progressed from youth level to the senior ranks. He made his first-team debut for the club at the age of 17, in a League Cup tie against Aston Villa, who, interestingly enough, is the club where he is currently assistant manager to Dean Smith.
What would follow was a near 20 year run at the club, where Terry would go on to establish himself as not only one of the greatest Chelsea players of all time, but one of the best defenders the Premier League has ever seen.
During his time at Chelsea, Terry led the club to five Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, one Europa League, and famously, one Champions League, where he helped to banish the demons from his penalty shootout miss in 2008. Individually, Terry was named the UEFA Club defender of the year on three occasions and was named in the FIFPro World XI in five consecutive seasons. He was also named PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 2005.
John Terry was an incredible reader of the game, and as brave as they come, even being knocked unconscious on more than one occasion for the club, as he threw his body on the line. Terry was a gifted passer, often proving to be the catalyst for the club’s attacks, under Mourinho’s management. The defender was also known for scoring goals, and is the highest-scoring defender in Chelsea’s history, netting 41 times for the Blues. Just to add to his legend, Terry even had time in goal, following in-game injuries to both of Chelsea’s usual goalkeepers. Of course, he helped to maintain a clean sheet.
The player was disliked by plenty of fans of other clubs, who perhaps begrudgingly knew just how good John Terry was. He was a mainstay of the club’s defense, forming some incredible partnerships during his time there. He was the man you would want to lead you into battle, and he did just that with Chelsea. There’s no wonder he’s looked at one of the very best to ever wear the famous royal blue of Chelsea Club.
#1 - Frank Lampard
Already an established Premier League midfielder when he joined Chelsea, Frank Lampard took his game to unprecedented heights at the blues, becoming the club’s all-time top scorer, during an incredible 13-year spell.
When you hear the term “Goal-scoring midfielder”, Frank Lampard is the name that should come to mind. Late runs into the box are still described as being “Lampard-esque”, and the midfielder could score any type of goal. Blessed with a terrific engine, Lampard could cover box-to-box and was also adept at creating opportunities for others, laying on 102 assists during his time in the Premier League.
Lampard is the only midfielder, from 9 players who have achieved the feat, to score at least 150 Premier League goals, and absolutely deserves his place in a discussion of the league’s very best players. In a team of leaders, Lampard was not always the most vocal, but was not shy in getting his point across, and was a huge reason for Chelsea success.
Lampard’s soccer brain is second to none, and it was no surprise to see him go into management. An initial spell at Derby has of course led to him managing Chelsea, where he’ll hope to bring success on par to what he enjoyed as a player at the club. Early signs are promising, and with the cerebral Lampard in charge, Chelsea might be poised for another spell of dominance.
Lampard was part of an incredible spine at Chelsea, and it’s no surprise to see that Petr Cech, John Terry, and Didier Drogba all appear in this list. All of these players are rightly seen as Chelsea legends, and their impact on the club won’t long be forgotten.
The Final Whistle
As mentioned at the top, Chelsea is an interesting club, enjoying pockets of success mixed with long periods of tougher times. They have had some incredible players wear that royal blue though, and I think this list shows just how lucky Chelsea fans have been at times, to be able to see these players in action.
With exciting young talent at the club, this list may soon have to be updated, as Chelsea look on the cusp of further success, all under the leadership of one of their best ever, Frank Lampard.