Two former managers, five-time title winner: Chelsea's best Premier League XI of players not signed by Abramovich

With Roman Abramovich’s days as Chelsea owner nearly officially over, now is a good time for reflection.

But what will the Russian’s tenure at Stamford Bridge best be remembered for?

The repeated recycling of managers certainly comes to mind.

Or the number of titles and trophies that were achieved under his stewardship.

But perhaps above all else, the amount of money Abramovich spent on changing and mostly improving the team certainly sticks out.

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Soon however, there will be a wave of new faces recruited by somebody else sitting at the top of the pile.

Just like there was before he stepped foot in South West London nearly two decades ago.

Ahead of the summer transfer window, here is a Premier League XI of Chelsea players not signed by Abramovich.

Goalkeeper: Carlo Cudicini

Yes, somebody did actually stand in between the sticks before Petr Cech!

That title goes to Carlo Cudicini, who joined the Blues in 1999, looked after at the time by Gianluca Vialli.

Photo by Professional Sport/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images

Cudicini eventually established himself as Chelsea’s number one and was named the Player of the Year for the 2001/02 season.

Cech did eventually take the gloves from him permanently, but not before his predecessor kept 14 league clean sheets in 2003/04 as Chelsea finished second.

Right-back: William Gallas

Although he tarnished his reputation by switching allegiance to Arsenal and then Tottenham Hotspur, William Gallas was there at the beginning of Chelsea’s transformation.

Gallas moved to the Bridge in 2001, displacing fellow Frenchman Frank Leboeuf.

He was named in the 2002/03 PFA Team of the Year after playing every single game.

The defender was selected again for the same accolade in 2005/05, having heavily contributed to Jose Mourinho’s second successive league triumph.

Centre-back: Marcel Desailly

This was a toss-up between two men born in the same country.

But as much as we love Leboeuf, Marcel Desailly just squeezes into this side.

Vialli managed to capture Desailly from AC Milan in 1998, some coop considering he had just won the World Cup with France.

Desailly would go on to play 218 times for Chelsea, winning the FA Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Centre-back: John Terry

Captain, leader, legend.

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

John Terry turned blue from a young age and never looked back.

Making his Chelsea debut in 1998, the legendary skipper won 15 major honours, including five league titles.

Left-back: Graeme Le Saux

Graeme Le Saux probably doesn’t receive the same recognition as anybody else on this list.

A rather reserved character in general, the full-back returned to Chelsea in 1997, having previously been there ten years earlier.

He made it into the 1997/98 PFA Team of the Year and helped Vialli’s men claim the FA Cup.  

Midfield: Ruud Gullit

Some couldn’t believe their eyes when the 1987 Ballon d’Or winner became a Blue in 1995.

Arguably one of the greatest players of a generation was finally in the Premier League, representing Chelsea.

But it is arguably Ruud Gullit’s contribution away from the pitch that gets him into this team.

He became a player-manager in 1996, following the departure of Glen Hoddle.

1995: Portrait of Ruud Gullit of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in London. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

Fast forward to the end of the subsequent campaign, and Gullit was lifting the FA Cup, Chelsea’s first major trophy for 26-years.

He also brought out the best in a small Italian magician, but more on him later.

Midfield: Frank Lampard

Do we really need to say anymore?

Midfield: Gus Poyet  

But before Frank Lampard made the goal-scoring-midfielder position his own, there was Gus Poyet.

Signed on a free transfer in 1997, the Uruguayan would prove to be a handy attacking weapon from central midfield.

He scored 45 times in 143 games for Chelsea, reaching double digits in the Premier League in three of his four seasons at the club.

Attack: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Whilst we are on the subject of goals, few know where the back of the net is better than Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images

The striker notched up 87 goals whilst wearing blue between 2000 and 2004.

He won the Premier League Golden Boot in 2000/01, the first Chelsea player to earn the award.

In fact, only Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka gave gone on to collect the accolade since.

Attack: Eidur Gudjohnsen

Where would the Dutch destroy be without his partner in crime though?

Whilst not as prolific as Hasselbaink, Eidur Gudjohnsen proved to be equally as important to Chelsea’s attack.

Signed in the same summer as his striker partner, Gudjohnsen didn’t take long to dominate English defences.

The fire and ice combination was one for the ages.

Attack: Gianfranco Zola

Now we come onto the Italian magician, pulled out of a hat by Gullit.

Not many could’ve predicted the influence Zola would have not only on Chelsea, but on English football when he moved to London in 1996.

He helped paved the way for foreign players on British soil, whilst also giving a platform to small, creative forwards in an otherwise physical and often ugly sport.

Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images

Zola won the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year in 1997, the Chelsea Player of the Year award twice and in 2003 was voted Chelsea’s greatest ever player.

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Nathaniel is a football journalist who graduated from the University of Derby. He has worked at Burton Albion as part of their media team for two years. Nathaniel produces regular articles for the club’s official website and match-day programme. He covered the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup in Brittany and has reported from grounds ranging from non-league up to the Premier League.