On August 17, 2003, Chelsea played their first Premier League game since being taken over by Roman Abramovich. It was the start of a wonderful era.
Plenty of players – and managers – have come and gone since Abramovich took control of the club, but during that period Chelsea have won more trophies than any other English team, with five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, a Champions League and a Europa League trophy added to their cabinet.
To emphasise just how far the Blues have come under Abramovich, we’ve revisited the first team to take the field in a competitive match after his takeover.
Chelsea famously beat Liverpool 2-1 to secure Champions League football in the final match before his buyout, and the opening fixture of the following season was also against the Reds, with the Londoners triumphing by the same scoreline at Anfield.
Cudicini had already been with Chelsea for three years before the arrival of Abramovich and had built a reputation as one of the better goalkeepers in the Premier League.
The Italian remained the club’s No.1 (while wearing No.23) throughout 2003-04, before losing his place to Petr Cech the following season. Cudicini stayed loyal to Chelsea until 2009, when he joined Tottenham.
And he is now back at Stamford Bridge as a club ambassador and assistant to Antonio Conte. His role recently involved acting as a ‘go-between’ to ease tensions between Conte and the board.
Johnson was one of Chelsea’s debutants in Abramovich’s first match in charge, having been signed in a £6million deal from West Ham in what was the first transfer to be completed under the Russian.
The former England international never truly established himself at Stamford Bridge, and few would have expected the right-back – who was replaced by William Gallas in the second half at Anfield – would be being linked with a move to Barcelona while playing for Stoke 14 years later.
Sadly, the move never materialised and he is now looking for a new club after being released by the Potters following their relegation.
The last surviving player of the pre-Abramovich era, Terry left Chelsea for Aston Villa at the end of 2016-17 having just lifted the fifth Premier League title of an outstanding 19-year-old career at Stamford Bridge – though he left Villa Park after the club’s loss to Fulham in the play-off final.
A goalscorer in that crucial final-day victory over Liverpool the previous season, 2003-04 would prove to be Desailly’s final campaign in a Chelsea shirt.
A legend of the game, the former France international now devotes his time to punditry and charity work.
Another Chelsea debutant on that day, Bridge had been signed from Southampton for £7million. His best moment in a Blues shirt would come later that season as he knocked Arsenal’s Invincibles out of the Champions League quarter-finals with the winning goal at Highbury.
Bridge was never really fancied by Jose Mourinho and went on to join Manchester City, but the former England left-back told us he didn’t really appreciate his quality and thought the Citizens had paid too much for him.
Scorer of one of the most important goals in Chelsea’s history with the winner against Liverpool which secured Champions League qualification, Gronkjaer opened the following season by providing the assist for the opener at Anfield.
The Dane went on to spend short spells at Birmingham, Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart before settling at FC Copenhagen. He retired in 2011 before joining amateur-side FC Graesrodderne five years later.
The arrival of Jose Mourinho prompted the departure of many of the players who helped establish Chelsea in the top four of the Premier League, but the Portuguese kept Geremi around for three years, describing the versatile Cameroonian as “an important person and somebody we love very much” when he eventually left for Newcastle.
In 2016, Geremi was elected president of the Cameroon players’ union.
Neither Manchester United nor Chelsea ever really saw the best of Veron on a consistent basis, although he did smash home the opener at Anfield.
Once Mourinho took over at Stamford Bridge the midfielder was immediately loaned out to Inter Milan.
He briefly came out of retirement to start a fifth spell at Estudiantes at the age of 42 in 2016 and is now the Argentinian club’s chairman.
Ranking alongside Terry as the lifeblood to Chelsea’s sustained success under Abramovich, the midfielder became an icon at the club before moving on in 2014.
After retiring in 2017, Lampard established himself as one of the most articulate pundits on television before being appointed Derby County manager in the summer of 2018.
The final debutant who start for Chelsea in the first match under Abramovich, Duff was the most expensive signing during the Russian’s first summer, costing £17million from Blackburn.
Duff would go on to play the best football of his career under Mourinho before an unhappy spell at Newcastle was followed by a return to form at Fulham.
His playing career ended with a spell at Shamrock Rovers, where he now coaches, alongside some punditry work.
Another player to earn the trust of Mourinho, and arguably one of the most underrated forwards in Premier League history.
A spell at Barcelona followed before he went on to play for another 11 clubs in a nomadic end to his career.
Did they sell him too soon? The striker came off the bench to score the winner at Anfield but left Stamford Bridge once Mourinho took over. Recent spells as manager of QPR and Northampton Twon have not gone well.
One of the few players to turn out for Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs before finishing his career with Perth Glory.
Came off the bench to make his Chelsea debut at Anfield and, like Duff, played the best football of his career under Mourinho. His career in England petered out but he is still playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the United Soccer League.
“The Lionel Messi of goalkeepers.”
This is a lot harder than it sounds.
If you want to win a final, Varane’s the man.
These are bound to put a smile on your face.
Some of the most important transfers in the PL.
Except maybe Phil Jones
Would Man Utd have signed Michael Owen without it?
Think of how good these could have been.
Nineteen to get in five minutes.
We have a new Ornstein.