Leboeuf played over 200 times for Chelsea between 1996 and 2001.

Frank Leboeuf: “We’d go out into the car park and meet the fans after games at Chelsea”

Footballers like to believe their era of success mattered more than any other, yet World Cup winner Frank Leboeuf is convinced that view is valid as he reflects on his time at Chelsea.

French defender Leboeuf joined Chelsea in 1996, long before Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the West London club and helped to transform them into a global football giant.

Premier League and Champions League glory was a fantasy for Chelsea when Leboeuf signed for Chelsea, as their ambitions were a little less lofty.

Yet all sporting success stories need to start with a breakthrough triumph and the team Leboeuf was a part of will always have a special place in Chelsea folklore, as their 1997 FA Cup win ended the club’s 26-year wait for major silverware.

This was an era when superstars like Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola started the evolution of Chelsea, with Leboeuf suggesting the foundations for the success enjoyed during the Abramovich era were put in place during his early days at the club.

“From the time I arrived, things started to change at Chelsea,” Leboeuf told Planet Football in an exclusive interview on behalf of BetVictor.

“We helped the club to become more professional and the British players who were already there followed our lead. The Italians, the Dutch players, some Romanians and the French players brought a new culture to Chelsea.

“We got into the training ground every day and had breakfast together, which was something new in England.

“The way we prepared for the training session was also different to what they were used to. The way we did our stretching was not what had been the norm in England up to this point.

“Taking care of ourselves with the physios and preparing in the right way was done differently in our countries, but the English and Scottish guys followed us and we worked together.

“We had several different nationalities and we bonded so well. We all wanted this project to succeed, so there was a sense that we had a togetherness.”

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Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante points during their Premier League victory over Leicester City at Stamford Bridge, London, August 2022.

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The late 1990s saw the Premier League boom move through the gears, with the popularity of the sport exploding amid the increased media exposure.

It led to a shift in culture on and off the pitch, with players becoming increasingly detached from the fans as their celebrity status rose and the eagerness of clubs to protect them from the media and all outside influences changed the relationship on so many levels.

Fans are no longer granted access to watch players train at top Premier League clubs, yet Chelsea’s windswept Harlington training base around the corner from Heathrow Airport was always a welcoming place for the club’s supporters during Leboeuf’s days at the club.

“We felt like a Chelsea family,” he reflected. “Fans were coming to the training ground, taking pictures with the players and there was no problem.

“Then after the games, we would go out into the car park at Stamford Bridge to meet the fans and it was a very different time. It was more human. For me, this was a better time because fans and players don’t mix like this anymore.

“Now, all these years later, you can see how much the Chelsea fans appreciated what our team did for the club.

“When the 1997 team go back, the fans always thank that team for helping to put the club onto a different path and they say it is their favourite era at Chelsea.

“They don’t say this because of the results as in the years that followed, the club won the Champions League and the Premier League title many times.

“No, the reason why they still love us all these years later is we showed how Chelsea could be successful and how to respect the club and the fans.”

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