With Chelsea on hiatus due to the Coronavirus, the club had to give the fans something to fill the time. Thankfully, they made the 2012 Champions League Final win over Bayern Munich available to stream for free. As I watched Chelsea’s herculean defensive effort for the first time in eight years, it got me thinking about players of yesteryear.
Lots of great players have come through Chelsea in the past decade. John Terry, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, and Eden Hazard will live on forever as legends in West London of course. But they’re too easy; everyone misses them. But there are some others who may or may not go down as legends, but are certainly missed.
Watch the 2012 Champions League Final and you’ll immediately see why many considered Cole the best left back in Premier League history. He didn’t wear the armband in Munich, yet he still put in a captain’s performance.
Cole made one crucial block after another throughout the 120 minutes, helping the defense stand tall. If Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben looked to shoot, Cole was either in their way already or sprinting to get in front and block the shot. And more times than not, he got there just in time.
Cole marshaled the left side of defense for nearly a decade for Chelsea, which included the three straight UCL semifinal appearances and the Final loss in Moscow in 2008. Chelsea’s stout defensive performances and records that made them one of Europe’s best? Cole played a big part in that.
Since Cole’s departure from Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have failed to replace him. Certainly current club captain Cesar Azpilicueta took up the role brilliantly after Cole left, playing out of position for several years. But you can’t argue Azpilicueta has been one of the best of all time in the Premier League. With Cole, you can.
Chelsea have won the Premier League twice and the FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League each once since Cole’s departure. But with someone like Cole defending the left side, could it have been more? We’ll never know.
Ashley Cole may already be a legend in many fans’ minds. And rightfully so. Rewatching the final in Munich reminded me of just how great he was as a player. The defensive skills, the ability to read the game, the determination to give everything he had, Cole cannot be over-appreciated.
John Obi Mikel
Another standout performer from the victory in Munich, Mikel commanded the middle of the park with midfield partner, and now manager, Frank Lampard. Mikel stepped in to challenges and broke up Bayern’s build up play on several occasions, doing more and more impressive defensive work as the game went on.
Although never the greatest of players, you could always rely on the Nigerian for a hardworking performance regardless of the opponent or occasion. To add even more to his legacy, Mikel played out of position for years on end at Chelsea under several managers. With his national team, he was more of the playmaker whereas with Chelsea, he got tasked with breaking up plays more than anything in a deeper, more defensive midfield role. And he didn’t complain.
Mikel exemplified “team player” by accepting a substitute’s spot more often then would’ve wanted and a defensive role for Blues, sometimes both at the same time. Mikel could have and should have been more, but playing out of position took his career in a different direction. He won everything possible as part of a team, but the individual plaudits he deserved never showed up as much as his talent demanded.
Describing John Obi Mikel as a “solid” player at Chelsea hits the nail on the head. That’s what the club and several managers asked him to be. Imagine if he had played his more natural role. A Chelsea legend? Maybe. Even now, he’s under appreciated in my book.
The magical Spaniard may have only graced Stamford Bridge for four and a half years, but what an incredible stretch it was. Fabregas won two Premier League titles, the first in his debut campaign. The Blues spent just about the entire 2014/15 season in first place under Jose Mourinho and Fabregas played right in the middle of that engine room.
Brazilian playmaker Oscar and Brazil-born Spanish international Diego Costa linked up well with Fabregas and together, the three of them put on a clinic every match. Fabregas tallied a career-high in assists across all competitions, 24, marking only the second year of career with 20 or more.
That is what made him so great throughout the prime of his career, which of course included winning a World Cup and Euros with Spain, as well as La Liga with Barcelona, that he was a huge cog in the wheel from different positions.
He played as a false nine sometimes with Barcelona, scoring and assisting in bunches. He could play centrally more as an attacking midfielder and distribute. And with the Blues, playing as the quarterback in the double pivot, he still thrived in a deeper role continuing to pick out passes.
Despite his short time with the club, and don’t forget being labaled one of the three infamous “rat,” many will remember his more positive moments, especially his emotional substitution and standing ovation when he left the field for the final time in Chelsea blue ahead of his move to Monaco.
In the history of Chelsea, Fabregas will most likely go down as just another player who came, won, and left. But he was so much more than that. And because of it, he’s a player I have missed in the year since he left West London.