I could put together a piece on the class of 2017 considering the number of players we’ve sold, but most of them would be at Man United. Such is our board’s eternal wisdom.

Back in ’97, there was no such issue, we didn’t sell to our rivals and instead purchased a good number of players from a wide variety of clubs, in fact, Manchester United actually sold us a player, Mark Hughes, who will feature later in this class. The ’97 team was one that successfully mixed British grit with some foreign class, Hughes and Zola, Wise and Di Matteo, Clarke and Leboeuf. It really did work well and you could tell the players enjoyed working with each other. Back in ’97 we also played three at the back, we looked at the subs last week, so who were those three that enabled Zola, Wise, Hughes, Vialli and Di  Matteo to plough forward?

Steve Clarke

I must admit, I think I came late to the Steve Clarke party. My first Chelsea game as a fan was the ’94 cup final, the following years were Clarkes last for the club. I always thought of him as a sub but in fact, he made over 400 appearances for Chelsea, appearing in our most famous matches of the time, winning three trophies in two years. He was a dependable defender, adept at playing either right-back or centre half. This particular side saw him do a bit of both as the right side of the three man defence. He was responsible for covering the attack minded Petrescu as well as bringing the ball from deep, a precursor to what Azpi does now.

He finished up at Chelsea post-Cup Winners’ Cup in 98 and went on to have a very successful coaching career. He joined ex-teammate and boss Ruud Gullit at Newcastle in ’98 and helped lead them to the FA Cup Final in ’99. He then worked his way up through the Chelsea youth teams, becoming Jose Mourinho’s trusted lieutenant from 2004 onwards. Clarke was an integral part of the coaching set up during our most successful period in our history. He stayed on after Jose left and helped bridge the gap between Abram Grant and the players. A lot of people point to Clarke’s influence as the one that drove us to near success that season.

He did leave the club once Scolari joined, wanting to branch out and work with another former club mate, Gianfranco Zola at West Ham. Minimal success followed before he joined Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, an odd decision for me. Obviously Clarkes heart wasn’t in it properly as it wasn’t a successful run. Dalglish struggled despite spending a tonne of money and Clarke was itching to get out on his own. The summer of 2012 saw a chance for Clarke to prove himself when he took the reigns at West Brom. Their first game? Liverpool at home. The result? 3-0. Excellent. Clarke had a good spell initially at The Baggies, leading them to an excellent top half position, though things started to unravel the season after. A lack of investment coupled with key players out of form saw Clarke out of a job the following December. An uninspiring run at Reading followed before he once again joined fellow Chelsea alumni Di Matteo at Aston Villa. Also, this didn’t end well, Di Matteo was mercifully sacked and the incumbent Steve Bruce didn’t keep Clarke on.

Despite the topsy turvy nature of the past few years, Clarke should absolutely be remembered as a Chelsea legend. Over 400 appearances coupled with being our number two during our best ever period in terms of dominance should completely discount any minor successes or failures at other clubs. I for one would welcome him back at The Bridge for when Conte inevitable walks out!

Next week we’ll take a look at two other defenders who are looked at completely differently by Chelsea fans. One, a clumsy own goal merchant and the other, a flair filled centre back with a penchant for penalties and lovely long passes.