Chelsea became the richest club in world football when Roman Abramovich bought them in 2003 – and they didn’t waste any time flexing their financial muscles.
Rather than dip their toes into the transfer market, manager Claudio Ranieri dived in headfirst and spent £120million on a host of new signings. The Premier League had never seen anything like it and would never be the same again.
But how did those new signings get on? We’ve ranked the 14 players Chelsea bought in their first season under Abramovich’s ownership from worst to best.
14. Adrian Mutu
Getting sacked for having been caught taking cocaine probably wasn’t what anyone had in mind when Chelsea paid £15.8million for Mutu.
The player was later ordered to pay the Blues £15million in damages which, as of October 2018, Chelsea were still waiting for.
The bitter ending is a shame considering Mutu was quite the player on his day…
On this day: 2003 – Adrian Mutu scored on his @ChelseaFC debut. #CFC #Chelsea pic.twitter.com/hV4OPQmSz2
— Chad ⭐⭐ (@ChelseaChadder) August 23, 2018
13. Juan Sebastian Veron
You have to question why Chelsea looked at Veron’s performances at Manchester United and thought he’d be the perfect midfield addition.
He scored on his debut at Liverpool but that was as good as it got. After making only 15 appearances, Veron was loaned out to Inter Milan in 2004 and never played for the club again.
This a definite example of having more money than sense.
12. Jurgen Macho
He came, he suffered a serious long-term injury, he left without making a first-team appearance.
Still, at least Macho was free.
11. Neil Sullivan
Signed after Macho’s injury, Sullivan made eight appearances for Chelsea without ever suggesting he’d usurp first-choice goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.
Still, as a solid Premier League performer with Wimbledon and Tottenham, the £500,000 acquisition was as close to a no-risk deal as you can get.
10. Marco Ambrosio
Signing three goalkeepers in the same window smacks of indulgence – almost as if Chelsea had won the lottery or something…
But the decision would prove to be wise after Cudicini suffered a string of injuries that ruled him out for the majority of the season.
Ambrosio was the best of his replacements, his biggest contribution being the string of saves that helped Chelsea overcome Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Despite this, Ambrosio was released in the summer of 2004.
9. Alexey Smertin
Ranieri signed Smertin from Bordeaux for £3.5million but immediately loaned him out to Portsmouth for the 2003-04 campaign.
He returned to Stamford Bridge but only played a bit-part role in Mourinho’s imperial 2004-05 squad, mainly due to the fierce competition for a midfield slot.
Despite making enough appearances to earn a Premier League winners medal, Smertin was ultimately deemed to be surplus to requirements 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 £10million to prise from Charlton in January 2004 but the presence of Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele limited his opportunities.
Mourinho’s arrival didn’t change matters and Parker found himself limited to appearances in the League Cup.
Chelsea received £6.5million from Newcastle in July 2005 for Parker, who went on to fulfil his potential at a number of clubs.
7. Glen Johnson
Johnson was the first signing of the Abramovich era, as Chelsea swooped over the carcass of relegated West Ham to secure the £6million full-back.
He was a regular starter in his debut season at Stamford Bridge, making 32 appearances in all competitions, but found first-team opportunities harder to come by under Mourinho.
Johnson shone at Portsmouth and Liverpool later in his career but his time at Chelsea was ultimately a frustrating one.
6. Wayne Bridge
His winner at Highbury ensured Bridge will always be fondly remembered by Chelsea fans.
📆 #OTD in 2004, Wayne Bridge sent the away end wild at Highbury! 🙌
A classic all-London clash as Chelsea knocked out 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 matched the high expectations of him but he was a lot better than many people remember.
READ: Chelsea flop? Hernan Crespo scored wondergoals for fun in the Prem
“In my team I love to have Geremi on the bench because he’s a low-profile 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 mark him out of the game, he does it.”
Any player that gets a ringing endorsement from Mourinho must be doing something right and 109 club appearances suggest that Geremi made a positive impression at Chelsea.
3. Damien Duff
It’s somewhat forgotten just how good Duff was during the early 2000s.
He became one of the league’s most exciting attacking talents at Blackburn and his form sparked interest from Manchester United and Arsenal – until newly-moneyed Chelsea activated his £17.1million release clause.
Instrumental in Chelsea’s second-place finish in 2004, Duff went on to dovetail beautifully with Arjen Robben and remains an incredibly popular figure at Stamford Bridge.
READ: Remembering Arjen Robben, Damien Duff & a Chelsea side at their most fun
2. Joe Cole
West Ham’s 2003 relegation meant they had to sell the family silver and Chelsea took advantage of the Hammers’ misfortune to sign Cole for £6.6million.
Many feel that Cole’s natural ability was compromised under Mourinho but another school of thought suggests that the manager installed a certain tactical discipline that meant his talent could be harnessed for the benefit of the team.
The playmaker enjoyed the most fruitful spell of his career under Mourinho’s management, scoring a career-best 11 goals in the 2005-06 league-winning season.
He was released in 2010 and it’s safe to say Chelsea got their money’s worth from Cole.
1. Claude Makelele
The loss of Makelele was the beginning of the end for the Galacticos at Real Madrid – and the start of Chelsea’s imperial phase.
Ranieri proclaimed that Makelele would be the “battery” of his team after paying £16million for his services and the France international was just that for five incredibly successful seasons at Stamford Bridge.
The man had a position named after him. No contest.
Appropriate moment, then, to recall the moment that Chelsea let even Claude Makelele have a go. Clinical. pic.twitter.com/czdQddHUuY
— Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) May 8, 2017
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