Forgotten Blues: Mateja Kezman
Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Just three of the best Eredivisie imports into the Premier League. This week’s player isn’t in such illustrious company.
That man is Mateja Kezman.
His lone season at Chelsea is more comparable to the less successful players who swapped the Netherlands for England. The likes of Afonso Alves, Jozy Altidore, and more recently, Vincent Jansson, spring to mind.
The year is 2004, and 25-year-old striker Mateja Kezman has scored 105 goals in 122 games in four seasons at PSV Eindhoven. The Serbian and Montenegro international receives an offer from Premier League side Chelsea.
Just three years prior, another PSV striker had swapped the Eredivisie for the Premier League. Ruud van Nistelrooy joined Manchester United and made an instant impact at Old Trafford.
As one of new boss Jose Mourinho’s first signings at Chelsea, and due to Kezman’s impressive scoring record, expectations are high. Only a week later, Chelsea sign another striker. A certain Didier Drogba. Following the departure of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Middlesbrough, Kezman is handed the number 9 shirt.
Life at Stamford Bridge didn’t start well for Kezman. Struggling for form, Kezman was in and out of the Chelsea side, with Drogba favoured up front. The striker netted his first Chelsea goal in October 2004, scoring the only goal of the game in a League Cup third round tie against West Ham.
He had to wait a little while longer to break his duct in the Premier League, however. Already 3-0 up at home to Newcastle, Chelsea were awarded a penalty in injury time, and up stepped Kezman. Despite only scoring once so far in his maiden season in England, the striker chipped the ball past Shay Given to finally open his Premier League account.
Things didn’t get much better for Kezman. Yet again struggling to maintain a starting spot, Kezman was unable to recapture the form that made him one of Europe’s deadliest strikers whilst at PSV. He did, however, score against Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup.
But in February 2005, Kezman scored one of the most important goals of Chelsea’s season and is probably the only memory that many Chelsea fans have of the Serb. In the 112th minute of the League Cup final against Liverpool, Kezman stabbed home to make it 3-1 to Chelsea. Antonio Nunez pulled one back for Liverpool a minute later, but it was Kezman’s goal that ultimately won Jose Mourinho his first trophy in English football.
Kezman later added a further three Premier League goals to his tally, scoring against Norwich City and then a brace against Crystal Palace. The striker ended his first, and only, season at Chelsea with four Premier League goals, and seven in all competitions.
Unsurprisingly Kezman was sold in the summer of 2005, moving to Atletico Madrid. Although he fared slightly better in Spain, he was yet again unable to recapture his Eredivisie form. Several moves across Europe followed, including spells at Fenerbache, PSG, and Zenit. As well as brief spells in Hong Kong.
Kezman retired from football in 2012 to pursue other interests, including a foray into being a sports agent.
Despite a poor season at Chelsea, Kezman confirmed in a 2011 interview that his time at Chelsea was the best of his career. Maybe a second season at Stamford Bridge could have been a catalyst to recapturing the form of a deadly marksman.