Football Features

Chelsea’s last line-up before the Roman Abramovich takeover, then and now: Who *really* scored the ‘£1bn goal’?

By Mohamed Moallim

Chelsea's last line-up before Roman Abramovich invested

Published: 14:00, 15 September 2020

May 11, 2003 is a day forever etched in the minds of Chelsea supporters.

It was the last time Blues fielded a team prior to Roman Abramovich’s acquisition a month later. The London-based club were playing the final match of their season at Stamford Bridge with Champions League football on the line.

As it happened, Chelsea’s rival for the last spot just so happened to be their opponents for the day, Liverpool. Claudio Ranieri’s men narrowly won 2-1, persuading Abramovich to purchase the club. One, of course, wonders how things would have turned out had they failed.

The Russian oligarch arrived and immediately got to spending, forever changing the landscape of English football. Within two years the Blues secured a first league title in 50 years, under Jose Mourinho, before adding another a season later. Abramovich would get his ultimate wish in 2012, when Chelsea secured the Champions League four years after seeing them lose to Manchester United in Moscow.

As for that historic starting line-up in 2003, we ask where are they now?

Goalkeeper: Carlo Cudicini

  • Age: 47
  • Chelsea appearances: 191

A graduate of AC Milan’s academy, the Milanese goalkeeper found his way to Stamford Bridge in 1999 after stints with Prato, Lazio and Castel di Sangro.

He would ultimately stay over 10 seasons before leaving for Tottenham Hotspur in 2009 after losing his first-team spot to Petr Cech a few years prior. Cudicini would represent Spurs on 37 occasions before leaving for Los Angeles Galaxy.

He returned as part of Antonio Conte’s backroom staff in the summer of 2016, and has since stayed on under Maurizio Sarri, since Frank Lampard’s arrival he’s been appointed loan player technical coach while continuing his work as a club ambassador.

Right-back: Mario Melchiot

  • Age: 43
  • Chelsea appearances: 164

Melchiot joined Chelsea the same year as Cudicini from Ajax, in whose esteemed youth program he was trained.

The Dutchman would leave Stamford Bridge in 2004 but remained in England with Birmingham City, before joining Rennes and then Wigan Athletic.

His final days as a professional were spent in Qatar; these days he appears as the occasional television pundit.

Outside the game, the former Dutch international released a rap/R & B track called “Midas Touch” along with former Ajax teammates Benni McCarthy and Dean Gorre, known as BMD. He also regularly spreads the “MM love” on Twitter, enjoying watching football from the outside.

Centre-back: William Gallas

  • Age: 43
  • Chelsea appearances: 224

Ranieri signed Gallas from Marseille in 2001 for £6.2m, and he would subsequently forge a strong centre-back partnership with Marcel Desailly and later John Terry. With the latter, they once went 16 consecutive games without conceding a goal.

Under the auspices of Jose Mourinho, he would move to right-back, until leaving for Arsenal as part of a deal that saw Ashley Cole move the other way in 2006.

Gallas would then cross another London divide, after making 140 appearances, by joining Spurs.

The former French international, who collected 84 caps with Les Bleus, ended a 19-year playing career with Perth Glory in 2014.

Centre-back: Marcel Desailly

  • Age: 52
  • Chelsea appearances: 222

Chelsea signed the World Cup winner after he played an instrumental role in France winning their first championship in the summer of 1998. Desailly joined from AC Milan, where he won the Champions League, scoring in their 1994 final against Barcelona, and earned a place in the club’s Hall of Fame.

In west London, Desailly was immediately given the captaincy under then boss Gianluca Vialli. After six seasons, including an FA Cup win in 2000 and the equaliser in that game against Liverpool, the defender called time on his stay in England and played the last two years of his professional career in Qatar with Al-Gharafa and then Qatar SC.

Desailly today is a Unicef ambassador and ever-present as a television pundit in his native France and occasionally England.

Left-back: Celestine Babayaro

  • Age: 42
  • Chelsea appearances: 197

Part of the golden generation that won gold for Nigeria at the 1996 Olympic games, Babayaro found his way to London via Anderlecht the following summer and became a mainstay in their squad for more than a decade.

After spending one season under Mourinho, he would depart the Bridge for Newcastle United, where he enjoyed three seasons before retiring at LA Galaxy in 2010.

Right-midfielder: Jesper Grønkjær

  • Age: 43
  • Chelsea appearances: 137

Grønkjær was the last Chelsea goalscorer before Abramovich’s takeover, netting what has since been dubbed the “billion-pound goal”. Some would argue that is was in fact Desailly’s equaliser that secured Champions League football as they only needed to avoid losing to finish in the top four.

In any case, Grønkjær can claim the assist for Desailly’s headed goal but wouldn’t stick around much longer to enjoy the success resulting from the investment his goal purportedly triggered. Grønkjær left a season later having been with the club for four seasons.

He would go on to enjoy spells at Birmingham City, Atlético Madrid, VfB Stuttgart as well as F.C. Copenhagen in his native Denmark.

The winger-forward retired in 2011 citing that he wants to enjoy a “life without aches”. However, in early 2016, he joined lower amateur-side FC Græsrødderne.

Central midfielder: Emmanuel Petit

  • Age: 49
  • Chelsea appearances: 76

Petit called time on his glittering 16-year playing career at Chelsea, his fourth club.

Starting out at Monaco, he would reunite with his former boss Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, winning the double in his first season before scoring in the World Cup final of 1998.

Petit later jetted off to Barcelona in the summer for 2000 (not before starring in an episode of The Bill) but his stay was brief, returning to England with Chelsea after a single campaign.

He’s since been an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup since 2011 as well as often appearing on French television as a football analyst.

Central midfielder: Frank Lampard

  • Age: 42
  • Chelsea appearances: 648

Since joining from boyhood club West Ham in 2001 the attacking midfielder became an integral fixture in future Chelsea sides, becoming a club legend and their all-time leading goal scorer in the process.

Across 13 very successful years, including three Premier League titles and the Champions League, the former England international averaged 16 goals per season and has since represented Manchester City while on loan from New York City FC, which was his last professional club before retiring.

After some work as a pundit, Lampard would move into management, coaching Championship side Derby County before taking the reins at Stamford Bridge, recently embarking on his second season.

Left-midfielder: Graeme Le Saux

  • Age: 51
  • Chelsea appearances: 228

A graduate of Chelsea’s youth academy, whom he joined after being spotted while playing in a local tournament by manager John Hollins, the Jèrriais footballer made 90 league appearances before joining Blackburn Rovers in 1993.

After a successful period, which includes becoming a Premier League champion in 1995, he returned in 1997 and remained at the Bridge before relocating to Southampton, where he retired in 2005.

During the 2003 game against Liverpool, it was Le Saux on the receiving end of a Steven Gerrard tackle for which the future Liverpool captain would be shown a red card.

Le Saux these days is a director at La Liga side Real Mallorca.

Striker: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

  • Age: 48
  • Chelsea appearances: 177

Before arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2000, the well-travelled Hasselbaink had represented Telstar and AZ, in his native Netherlands, as well as Campomaiorense and Boavista in Portugal.

His breakthrough really came at Leeds United, which earned him a lucrative move to Atlético Madrid. There, he scored 24 goals across 34 league matches but after their relegation he switched to the Blues and became a regular presence.

In his four seasons Hasselbaink registered 88 goals with 70 of those coming in the Premier League. He’d leave in the summer of Mourinho’s appointment, joining Middlesbrough, and then one-year spells with Charlton Athletic and Cardiff City.

Hasselbaink has since worked as a coach, last manager of Northampton Town, having also worked at Royal Antwerp and Burton Albion and QPR.

Striker: Eidur Gudjohnsen

  • Age: 42
  • Chelsea appearances: 261

Since leaving Chelsea in 2006, the Icelandic forward represented 12 clubs in eight different countries. One of those were Barcelona, who he immediately left the Blues for, where he got his hands on the Champions League in 2009.

After enjoying his first major international tournament appearance at Euro 2016, and most recently playing for Norway’s Molde, Gudjohnsen retired from football in September 2017. He is joint-manager of eight-time Icelandic champions Fimleikafelag Hafnarfjardar, more commonly known as FH.