The arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea in June 2003 shook up the landscape of English football forever. In his 16+ years in charge of the club, Abramovich has been criticised for being short-termist, ruthless and too quick to hire and fire managers. Despite those criticisms, since his arrival, no English team has won more trophies than the West Londoners.
The Blues have won 18 trophies in total during that time, most notably five Premier League titles, the Champions League, two Europa Leagues and five FA Cups. Much of that success has been attributed to the vast resources Abaramovich has pumped into the club, particularly in his early years and before the introduction of Financial Fair Play by UEFA.
Roman wasted no time when it came to writing cheques following his arrival at Stamford Bridge, and today I’m going to take a look at Chelsea’s first 7 signings following the Russian billionaires takeover, and where those players are now…
7. Glen Johnson – Retired
Chelsea’s first signing of the Roman Abramovich era was young English full-back Glen Johnson. A graduate of the West Ham academy, Johnson was just 18 when he signed for Chelsea for a fee of £6 million following his breakout season at Upton Park. He made 60 appearances in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge, before losing his place to Paulo Ferreira. Johnson went on to star for Portsmouth, Liverpool and Stoke, as well as winning 54 caps for England, before retiring from football in the summer of 2018. The 35-year-old has since made various media appearances, doing the odd prediction in the newspapers and appearing on TalkSport.
6. Geremi – UEFA’s MIP Programme
Versatile former Cameroon great Geremi joined Chelsea in July 2003 from Real Madrid for £6.9 million. Equally comfortable at right-back or in midfield, Geremi played plenty of football in his four seasons at the Bridge, although his gametime in the league was gradually reduced by Jose Mourinho. Geremi left Chelsea to sign for Newcastle in 2007, which would be his last long-term club, before brief stints in Turkey and Greece. Capped 118 times by Cameroon, Geremi officially retired in 2011, and last week he joined the likes of Didier Drogba, Andrey Arshavin and Kaka on UEFA’s Executive Master for International Players programme. Initialised to simply MIP, the programme seeks to help footballers prepare for life after sport and new career opportunities.
5. Wayne Bridge – Retired
Wayne Bridge was a terrific young full-back when he signed for Chelsea in 2003, commanding a fee of £7 million plus Graeme Le Saux. At the age of 22, Bridge was already a full England international who had played over 170 games for Southampton. He made almost 50 appearances in his debut campaign, famously scoring an 88th minute winner to send Chelsea into the Champions League semi-finals against Arsenal. The arrival of Ashley Cole in 2006 was always likely to limit Bridge’s gametime, for both club and country, and in 2008 he joined another newly-taken over cash rich side in the form of Man City. Bridge later went on-loan to West Ham, Sunderland and Brighton, retiring in 2014 after a short spell with Reading, and he can now be seen on Joe’s Liquid Football podcast and advertising for Debenhams.
4. Damien Duff – Celtic Coach
Republic of Ireland legend Damien Duff was signed by Chelsea off the back of an excellent season at Blackburn Rovers in which he had hit double figures from the left flank. Chelsea met the Dubliners £17 million release clause, and Duff spent the next three seasons as a regular at the Bridge. He played a big part in bringing consecutive Premier League titles back to Stamford Bridge in 2005 and 2006, before joining Newcastle United like Geremi, where it was his own goal which ultimately saw the Magpies relegated. Five seasons at Fulham followed, before short spells in Australia and Ireland, and retirement in 2015. Duff then moved into coaching, firstly at Shamrock Rovers, and now at Celtic, where he is Neil Lennon’s first team coach.
3. Joe Cole – Coach and Pundit
One of the most technically gifted players English football has produced during my lifetime if not longer, Joe Cole had a terrific career, but it potentially could have been a whole lot better. As a youngster at West Ham, it looked as though there was nothing Cole couldn’t do with the ball at his feet. He joined Chelsea for £6.6 million, where he would win seven trophies in seven seasons and one Player of the Year award. Sadly though, for both club and country, Cole tended to be pushed out into a wide position, when he always looked strongest in a free role through the middle. Post-Chelsea, Cole played for Liverpool, Lille, West Ham, Aston Villa, Coventry City and Tampa Bay Rowdies. He retired in 2018, and has since taken up a role as technical academy coach at Chelsea, as well as doing a fair bit of punditry for BT Sport.
2. Juan Sebastián Verón – Estudiantes Chairman
Juan Sebastián Verón was always a brilliant footballer, but he was signed by Chelsea in 2003 having failed to really justify the record breaking £28.1 million that Manchester United had paid for him. He cost Chelsea just half that amount, but only made 14 appearances in his single season at the Bridge. Jose Mourinho was quick to move him on, and Veron went on to turn out for Inter Milan and Estudiantes, only hanging up his boots in 2014. He has worked in the hierarchy at his boyhood club Estudiantes since 2012, and currently serves as the clubs chairman.
1. Adrian Mutu – Al-Wahda Reserves Manager
Adrian Mutu’s time at Chelsea was shrouded in a controversy which is bizarrely still ongoing. The Romanian set Chelsea back £15.8 million having starred in Italy for Parma, but he could only manage six Premier League goals in his debut campaign. Mourinho and Mutu immediately had a personality clash upon the Portuguese managers arrival, and in September 2004 the striker was handed a seven-month ban for testing positive for cocaine use. Chelsea sued Mutu for damages of roughly €17 million, and FIFA ruled in favour of the club in 2008. Mutu was given 30 days to pay the fine, but more than a decade on and four different appeals later – all found in favour of Chelsea – the battle is still ongoing. Mutu himself went on to play for the likes of Juventus and Fiorentina, retiring in 2016, and he has been coaching UAE Pro League side Al-Wahda’s reserves since 2018.