Opposition supporters, pundits and most football observers – rightly or wrongly – point out that the modern day Chelsea were thrust into the upper echelons of the European football elite when Roman Abramovich and his Russian roubles rode into SW6, however if you delve a little deeper, the foundations were laid around eight years prior.
After yet another underwhelming league campaign, Ken Bates and manager Glenn Hoddle sought to change the dynamics of the entire club, to cope with an ever growing world, particularly in football, Chelsea looked to become like the area of London in which the club was situated – Cosmopolitan.
Despite a European Cup Winners Cup run, all the way to the semi-finals, losing to eventual winners Real Zaragoza, it was felt among the club’s hierarchy – particularly, investor and shareholder Matthew Harding, that Chelsea needed to head in a new direction – Harding had answered Ken Bates’ call in 1993, of fresh investment that the club so badly needed – Hardin, in turn, invested £26.5million – a sum that wouldn’t but a decent centre half in 2017, but to Chelsea in 1993 it meant a hell of a lot – and joined the board of directors.
A room in a Marriott hotel in Slough may not sound like the most obvious of choices to embark on one of the more, history making meetings in the history of Chelsea Football Club, the major talking point on the agenda between Ken Bates, Matthew Harding, Colin Hutchinson and Glenn Hoddle was the availability of Dutch superstar Ruud Gullit, and so it came to pass, that, following the meeting of the most powerful figure heads at Stamford Bridge decided on the end result – the signature of Ruud Gullit– a sensational statement by the club, that in turn brought envious eyes from all corners of the globe.
During the press conference of Gullit, it was announced that Chelsea had secured the signing of another legend in the game – Manchester United striker Mark Hughes.
No journalist, pundit and least of all Chelsea fans could believe what they were witnessing, the club were changing in a new direction completely all together, building on recent successes such as reaching an FA Cup Final and European semi final, Matthew Harding had brought with him a new philosophy that would change the landscape at Stamford Bridge forever. Even after his tragic death in 1996, the reverberations of that Marriott hotel meeting would be felt in the signings of Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo, Marcel Desailly and Gianluca Vialli.
‘If Matthew hadn’t been around then I’m not sure we’d have embarked on that’ said Colin Hutchinson.
Starting with Glenn Hoddle, to Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, managers have looked to build success upon success, and had that meeting in a Marriott hotel never taken place, without Harding’s input, and without that meeting, Chelsea may not have become the modern Chelsea that we know today.
It is one of those signings that is looking to put a dent in Chelsea’s quest for back to back titles when Antonio Conte takes the Blues on a tricky annual trip to the Britannia Stadium, standing in the way of three points is Stoke, and former Blue – Mark Hughes.
Hall Of Fame takes a look back on his career as a Blue at Stamford Bridge.
Mark Hughes – 1995 – 1998 – Appearances 123 – Goals 39
Mark Hughes joined Chelsea for £1.5million from Manchester United, on the same day that Ruud Gullit joined. In his debut season for the club Hughes scored 12 goals, including the only goal in a 1-0 win over Arsenal – Chelsea’s last league win over Arsenal until 2005 (see previous column), despite the arrival of Hughes, Gullit and Dan Petrescu, Chelsea’s domestic form remained inconsistent as ever, finishing 11th for the third time in four years, an FA Cup run to the semi-finals would put some added gloss on the season but it was the league in which the club were targeting bigger and better things, as well as winning domestic trophies.
So to the summer of 1996, Glenn Hoddle had departed to take over England, to keep in line with the new philosophies and dynamics of the way Chelsea were heading, Ruud Gullit was appointed manager, and the club embarked on yet another summer splurge on new recruitments – in came Roberto Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola, and it was with Zola, that Hughes would form a deadly partnership.
Chelsea’s Premier League improved significantly with a sixth-place finish, but it was to be in the FA Cup where Hughes was to have his biggest impact.
The FA Cup Fourth round draw had pitted Chelsea up against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, this FA Cup tie would prove to be one of the finest displays of Mark Hughes in a Chelsea shirt – we’ll come to another in a while – Liverpool came to Stamford Bridge top of the league, coupled with the new exciting side Ruud Gullit was putting together, pre-match hopes were high going into the game.
Those pre-match hopes were burst within the opening twenty minutes as Liverpool burst out of the blocks, Liverpool’s latest Kop sensation Robbie Fowler opened the scoring, a cross from Jason McAteer wasn’t cleared, a shot across the face of goal was steered in by Fowler, punishing a Chelsea defence who could not clear their lines.
Chelsea would not heed the warning, more Liverpool pressure in midfield resulted in a mistake from Eddie Newton whose wayward interception found Stan Collymore, who bore down on Chelsea’s goal to find the net for the visitors to double their lead.
Chelsea were going nowhere fast, a change was needed, Chelsea went with three at the back, Hughes replaced Scott Minto, with Roberto DiMatteo, what was to follow was a second-half display of powerful attacking football that Liverpool just could handle. Hughes scored within five minutes of the re-start with a typical Mark Hughes goal that had become a trademark of his career, a ball fed into him by Frank Leboeuf on the edge of the box, with his back to goal, Hughes shrugged of the attentions of Mark Wright to swivel and fire into the net to spark off a comeback of epic proportions, his impact from the bench was immediate.
Gianfranco Zola scored an exquisite equaliser from the edge of the box following excellent work from Hughes, with a loose ball pinging around the Liverpool area, Hughes beat the challenge of the ensuing Stan Collymore to lay the ball back to the Italian genius who curled his effort beyond the reach of David James to level the game up at 2-2.
Gianluca Vialli added two more goals in a frantic 26-minute spell that saw Chelsea, from 2-0 down win the match 4-2, the catalyst for victory was the introduction of Mark Hughes, who ran the Liverpool defence every which way, something that Chelsea had not done in the first half.
This victory led Chelsea on a run which would culminate in victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley, Hughes’ contribution did not just stop with Liverpool, he opened the scoring in an emphatic quarter-final win over Portsmouth and added a brace against Wimbledon in the semi-final at Highbury.
With victory in the final against Middlesbrough, Hughes became the first player since the 19th Century to win the FA Cup four times – as a result of his contributions, Hughes was voted Chelsea’s Player of the Season for 1996/97 season.
The FA Cup Final win over Middlesbrough was the start of a journey which the late Matthew Harding had hoped before his passing.
The 1997/98 season was to be Mark Hughes’ last in a Chelsea shirt, but he would still prove to be hugely influential in pursuit of more silverware.
Ken Bates relieved Ruud Gullit of his duties, much to the shock of Chelsea fans everywhere, rumours of talks breaking down between the pair over contract renewals proved to be reason for Gullit’s departure.
In the match before his sacking – a 2-1 League Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Arsenal at Highbury, Hughes scored a vital consolation goal, with a header to keep Chelsea in the tie going into the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
Again Hughes saved his biggest contributions in the cups, opening the scoring against Arsenal at the Bridge to spark Chelsea to a 4-3 aggregate win to send Vialli’s men to Wembley which would result in Chelsea picking up the first of two trophies that season, Chelsea beat – ironically again Middlesbrough to win the League Cup – how they must be sick of the sight of Chelsea at the twin towers.
Mark Hughes would still find one more heroic act before departing Stamford Bridge, trailing 1-0 to Vicenza from the 1st leg in Italy, the Italians doubled their aggregate lead with an away goal on 32 minutes to seemingly put an end to Chelsea’s hopes of reaching another cup final. Chelsea didn’t seem to read the script with Gus Poyet equalising three minutes later to give the Blues some hope.
Chelsea started the second half like a train and Gianfranco Zola brought the aggregate scores level at 2-2 with a bullet header following a fantastic cross from Gianluca Vialli – despite Zola’s leveller, Chelsea were still heading out on away goals, a third goal was needed.
With time and ideas running out, Gianluca Vialli called for Mark Hughes on the 70th minute, and within six minutes of his arrival on the pitch, Hughes had scored the vital third to send Chelsea to Stockholm. A long punt upfield from goalkeeper Ed De Goey found Hughes on the edge of the box, brushing his marker aside, Hughes buried a beautiful left foot effort into the bottom right-hand corner to send Stamford Bridge into raptures – Hughes would collect his third winners’ medal with the club following Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Stuttgart in the final.
To Chelsea supporters, Mark Hughes is one of the many signings in the mid 1990’s to change the dynamics and philosophies of the club, into what has become in the present days – to a generation of supporters his days as a player at the club will be remembered with the fondest of memories.
So to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, after a disappointing draw against Arsenal, Antonio Conte will look to get three points at a ground where Chelsea have had mixed results in recent reasons, however whenever the three points have been brought back to West London, the league title usually follows – let’s hope like last season, this is an omen that is repeated on Saturday and again in May.