Ricardo Carvalho.

John Terry.

David Luiz.

Ashley Cole.

Franck Leboeuf

Cesar Azpilicueta

William Gallas.

Since the mid to late 90’s, we have been blessed with some fantastic, world class defenders at the Bridge. But as a pure defender, for me, one man stands above them all.

Marcel Desailly

Imagine Tottenham signing Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. Or Tottenham signing 2002 era Lucio. West Ham signing Jerome Boateng? None of these really sound all that plausible. Yet back in 1998, fresh off winning the World Cup Marcel Desailly made the move to an emerging Chelsea, fresh off us winning the League Cup and finishing 4th, albeit a long way behind the top two of Arsenal and Man Utd. In his very first season we made a major play for the title, his partnership with Leboeuf was almost instantaneous, giving the likes of Zola, Flo and Di Matteo freedom to play as they wished. We only finished 4 points off the top that season, behind a fantastic Arsenal and a treble-winning Manchester United side. Unfortunately that was as close as Desailly came to winning the league with Chelsea.

Born in Ghana but moving to France at an early age, Desailly joined Nantes, quickly showing the pace, power, and rock solid ability that would make him a French Legend. He moved to Marseille and instantly won the Champions League in his first season. Remarkably, 18 months later, he moved to AC Milan and within 6 months of joining them, was a European Champion again. During this time, he started to force his way into the French National team, battling with the likes of Laurent Blanc and future Chelsea team-mate Leboeuf for a starting spot, eventually winning out just after Euro 96 and never looking back.

His technical ability was also underrated. Whilst at AC Milan, Fabio Capello noticed this and helped to mould Desailly into a midfield destroyer but one with no little technical ability. He was able to successfully parlay his positioning, his strength, and his leadership skills along with his technical ability into becoming a highly successful Midfielder in the four years he spent in Italy. It came to light though, that Desailly himself wasn’t overly enthused with the prospect of being a midfielder for the rest of his career and so, after winning the World Cup and becoming a Knight of The Legion of Honour in France no less! He moved to Chelsea.

His opening game wasn’t the greatest, travelling to Coventry as we had done the previous opening day, back in ’97, and Desailly took a little bit of time to adjust. He says himself that he was almost depressed after joining Chelsea! In Italy he was the main man, almost twice the size of some of the continental strikers inhabiting Juventus, Parma, Roma and Lazio. Not so in England. Desailly came up against more robust figures. Dion Dublin, John Hartson and Chris Sutton were just three of the super strength strikers who were bullying Premier League defences at the time. Desailly learnt to adapt his game though, spending hours studying and becoming more adept and maybe even a bit cuter. Not necessarily going to win every ball, but positioning himself so that he could win the second, if not the first. This adjustment was a massive help in the above mentioned title challenge.

The FA Cup was to follow the next season. Remarkably this was the only Major Trophy Desailly was to win in his six years at the Bridge. He had no little impact though with John Terry himself stating that Desailly was probably the greatest defensive influence on him and William Gallas choosing us over a plethora of other English teams was down to wanting to learn from the great French hero. Gallas and Terry went on to help form possibly our greatest ever defence from 2004-2006, Terry taking on the mantle of captain and defensive leader post-Desailly.

Unfortunately, Desailly’s Chelsea career didn’t end in the best way. He probably stayed on a year or two too long and was partly at fault for Chelsea being eliminated from the Champions League at the hands of Monaco in 2004. The upside from this is that it got Ron Atkinson off of our screens, every cloud. Desailly left as Jose came in and made the move to Qatar, winning two league titles with two different clubs in the two years he spent there. Showing again, the instant impact he had wherever he went.

Marcel Desailly can now be seen on French TV or our own home channels when the Tournaments come round. He has been involved in numerous charities, working tirelessly to help others. For me, he was our greatest defender of the modern era.

If you haven’t already, google his laugh.