12 of Chelsea’s best bargain signings of the Roman Abramovich era

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Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta (right) and Gary Cahill (left) during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Saturday December 3, 2016.

The Roman Abramovich era is over at Chelsea after almost 20 years of lavish spending.

There have been successful signings and flops in equal measure as the Blues spent big in an effort to compete at the top of the Premier League. But there have also been several bargains – or at least more affordable buys – during Abramovich’s time at the club.

We’ve taken a look at some of the best of them.

Edouard Mendy – £21.6m

Kepa Arrizabalaga’s high-profile blunders meant Chelsea were in clear need of a sturdy goalkeeper.

And they found one in Mendy, signed for a relatively modest fee from Rennes in 2020.

Sorting out a problem position so inexpensively – at least by Chelsea’s standards – was a major boost for the Blues in the 2020-21 season, which ended with a Champions League title.

Cesar Azpilicueta – £7.9m

The fans call him Dave, and that’s really all you need to know. An overwhelming success.

Thibaut Courtois – £8.06m

Signed from Genk in 2011 as a gangly, almost awkward teenager, Courtois ultimately proved an inspired bit of business,

He spent a few years on loan at Atletico Madrid before returning to Stamford Bridge and replacing Petr Cech, going on to win two Premier League titles in four years as the Blues’ No.1.

Then it was on to Real Madrid in 2018 in a deal worth £35million. A healthy profit for Chelsea, to say the least.

Gary Cahill – £7.6m

An unassuming but efficient defender, Cahill played a big part in Chelsea’s Premier League titles in both 2014-15 and 2016-17 – not to mention the Champions League only a few months after his modest move from Bolton.

He formed a solid partnership with John Terry, though he was gradually phased out of the team as he advanced into his 30s. Still, a little over £7million for such a dependable performer can’t be sniffed at.

Nemanja Matic – £22.5m

Admittedly, Matic had already been signed once by Chelsea, though the £1.5million fee paid to Slovak club Kosice was a drop in the ocean.

He struggled to break into the first team during his first spell, leaving for Benfica in 2011 after just a couple of seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Matic excelled in Portugal, though, and was soon back in west London. It proved more expensive for Chelsea the second time around, but the return on investment was high.

The Serbia international was a key man in midfield, winning two Premier League titles and an FA Cup, before he was sold to Manchester United for £40million in 2017. Superb business all round.

Branislav Ivanovic – £10.8m

Hard as nails. That’s the prevailing memory of Ivanovic.

Few would have expected him to be such a mainstay of several excellent Chelsea teams when he arrived from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2008.

Nine years later, he left the club a legend, with 11 trophies to his name.

Ashley Cole – £6.6m

Hated by Arsenal fans, but loved by Chelsea fans. Cole’s move across London was controversial and certainly divided opinion.

By the end of his time at Chelsea, though, the left-back was revered.

Joe Cole – £8.9m

A joy to watch.

West Ham's Joe Cole

READ: A celebration of peak Joe Cole: ‘A special player, full of fantasy’

Alex – £10.35

A rugged, aggressive centre-back with a free kick that could end lives, Alex proved a real success after joining Chelsea from Santos in 2004.

He was often a backup option during his time at Stamford Bridge, but when called upon he more than justified his transfer fee.

Strikers, regardless of their size, simply did not mess with Alex. And trying to block one of his shots was akin to jumping in front of a bus.

You don’t earn a nickname like ‘The Tank’ for nothing.

Salomon Kalou – £3.6m

Perhaps slightly underappreciated for his contribution at Chelsea, Kalou was never the star man in attack.

But he was always a valuable option following his arrival from Feyenoord in 2006. The former Ivory Coast international consistently reached double figures for goals in all competitions, no mean feat given the competition for places.

Wayne Bridge – £9.4m

Off-the-pitch and injury issues aside, Bridge’s time at Chelsea was a success. And he scored the goal that kicked off the greatest era in Chelsea history.

Chelsea's Wayne Bridge celebrates his winning goal against Arsenal in the Champions League. Highbury, London, 06 April 2004.

READ: Recalling the Wayne Bridge CL goal that kicked off Chelsea’s glory years

Petr Cech – £11.7m

A signing that continues to pay dividends nearly 20 years on. Cech was as dependable as goalkeepers come and proved to be one of the best signings of the Premier League era.

Interestingly, Chelsea signed the Czech stopper from Rennes, which is, of course, where Mendy also arrived from.

If the latter is able to match Cech’s success and longevity then he too will be recognised as a club legend.

Despite a serious head injury, which led to the wearing of Cech’s trademark helmet, the goalkeeper was unerringly reliable for over a decade at the club.

He made close to 500 appearances for Chelsea, winning four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and a Champions League.

And he’s now working as a performance advisor at Stamford Bridge. Not bad for just over £11million.

“I am honoured to have been the manager that, at such an early age, gave Petr a top Premier League number one shirt,” said Jose Mourinho when Cech retired in 2019.

“After that day, it is all about him. All about his numbers, his performances, his clean sheets, his titles and his professionalism.”


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