Football Features

“People tell me it’s cursed” – How every player to wear Chelsea’s No.9 fared since 2000

By Squawka News

Published: 13:50, 6 August 2022

For many it’s unlucky number 13, or 17 for our Italian friends. For Chelsea it’s the number 9, and it’s something of a curse.

The No.9 shirt often comes with lofty expectations, often donned by a team’s main centre-forward, the player on whom the responsibility of goalscoring falls. And over the years, fans have been blessed with a host of iconic No.9s, from Ronaldo to Alan Shearer, Alfredo Di Stefano to Gabriel Batistuta.

But unfortunately that hasn’t been the case for Chelsea. The Blues haven’t had much luck with the No.9 shirt this century, some due to poor decision-making in picking squad numbers, and others down to bizarre loss of form.

The poor run has seen making joke that the shirt number is cursed, and it’s something Thomas Tuchel and his squad appear to have picked up. Chelsea are currently without a No.9 after Romelu Lukaku left to join Inter Milan on loan (more on him later), and none of their players wanted to fill that spot.

“It’s cursed, it’s cursed, people tell me it’s cursed,” he told reporters jokingly.

“It’s not the case that we leave it open for tactical reasons, for some players in the pipeline that come in and naturally take it.

“There was not a big demand for No.9 when players sometimes want to change numbers. Surprisingly, nobody wants to touch it. Everybody who is here longer than me tells me, ‘ah, you know, he had the 9 and he did not score and he had the 9 and did also not score’.

“So we now we have a moment where nobody wants to touch the No.9. I’m also superstitious, I can understand why players maybe don’t touch it and have other preferences.”

So just why do people think it’s cursed? Let us take you on a trip back through Chelsea No.9s this century.

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2000-04: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

  • Joined from: Atletico Madrid
  • Fee: £15m
  • Chelsea appearances: 177
  • Chelsea goals: 88

Chelsea obliterated their transfer record to land Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for £15m in 2000 after he had suffered relegation with Atletico Madrid the season prior, despite scoring 24 La Liga goals.

It proved money well spent as Hasselbaink forged a fruitful partnership with Gianfranco Zola and then more famously Eidur Gudjohnsen during his four years at Stamford Bridge.

The Dutchman won the Premier League Golden Boot in his debut season and averaged a goal every two games during his time with the club.

2004-05: Mateja Kezman

  • Joined from: PSV
  • Fee: £5m
  • Chelsea appearances: 41
  • Chelsea goals: 7

Regarded as one of the most feared strikers in Europe following a prolific spell with PSV in the Netherlands, Mateja Kezman moved to Chelsea in a bid to prove he could cut it in a tougher league.

A £5m fee for a striker who had plundered 105 league goals in his previous 122 games appeared to be a snip for the Blues, but Kezman struggled badly to transfer his Eredivisie form to the Premier League.

Following one unfulfilled year at Chelsea, Kezman’s career unravelled rapidly as he embarked on a nomadic tour around Europe and China. Then again, he did score two goals in four games as Chelsea won the 2005 League Cup (Mourinho’s first trophy as Blues manager), including one in the final against Liverpool.

2005-06: Hernan Crespo

  • Joined from: Inter
  • Fee: £16.8m
  • Chelsea appearances: 73
  • Chelsea goals: 25

At one time the most expensive footballer in the world, Hernan Crespo had enjoyed a seven-year spell in Italian football with Parma, Lazio and Inter before making the move to England.

Injury problems hindered Crespo’s debut season at Stamford Bridge and his failure to settle off the pitch in London failed to help matters culminating in a loan move to AC Milan in 2004.

Crespo scored twice in the incredible 2005 Champions League final that Milan contrived to throw away against Liverpool but then returned to Stamford Bridge for a season, helping the club win their second Premier League title. He maintained a fairly decent goalscoring average but Crespo’s stint in English football is generally considered a disappointment given the high expectations players of his ability generate.

2006-07: Khalid Boulahrouz

  • Joined from: Hamburg
  • Fee: £8.5m
  • Chelsea appearances: 20
  • Chelsea goals: 0

Sometimes squad numbers just don’t make sense. Following Crespo’s departure to Inter, someone at Chelsea opted to give Khalid Boulahrouz, a versatile but limited defender, the hallowed No.9 shirt.

The Dutchman struggled to do it justice. He was largely utilised as a closer by Mourinho, coming on to help defend a lead, but his career at Chelsea was practically ended by a horror show of a performance at White Hart Lane.

2007-08: Steve Sidwell

  • Joined from: Reading
  • Fee: Free
  • Chelsea appearances: 25
  • Chelsea goals: 1

As above. Quite why Chelsea felt it appropriate to give the striker’s number to a combative midfielder is anyone’s guess, but there you go.

Steve Sidwell earned a move to Chelsea off the back of a wonderful season in the Premier League with Reading, who defied the odds to finish comfortably away from danger in their debut campaign in the top flight.

It was a low-risk move for Chelsea as he arrived on a free transfer but, just like Boulahrouz, he stuck around for only a season and left in search of greater first-team opportunities at Aston Villa.

Perhaps handing the No.9 shirt to bit-part defenders and midfielders angered the footballing gods, prompting what was to come…

2008-09: Franco Di Santo

  • Joined from: Audax Italiano
  • Fee: £3.4m
  • Chelsea appearances: 16
  • Chelsea goals: 0

Chelsea secured the services of the highly-rated Franco Di Santo after he had made a promising start to his career with Audax Italiano in Chile and he was quickly integrated into the first team.

Di Santo was handed 16 appearances during the 2008-09 season but many of those were cameos off the bench and he failed to get off the mark or show sufficient promise to command more minutes.

Carlo Ancelotti loaned Di Santo out to Blackburn Rovers and although he managed just a solitary goal there he earned a permanent move to Wigan, with whom he won the FA Cup in 2013.

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2011-14: Fernando Torres

  • Joined from: Liverpool
  • Fee: £50m
  • Chelsea appearances: 172
  • Chelsea goals: 45

Didier Drogba was unquestionably Chelsea’s talisman in attack, but in 2011 the club started to plan for life without the brilliant Ivorian by splashing out a then-English record £50m on Fernando Torres on the winter deadline day.

Torres had developed into the best striker in the Premier League and European football overall during his time at Liverpool but by the time he arrived at Chelsea, he was unmistakably past his peak.

He enjoyed some memorable moments for the Blues, most notably scoring against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, but overall his time at Chelsea was unsuccessful.

2015-16: Radamel Falcao

  • Joined from: Monaco
  • Fee: Loan
  • Chelsea appearances: 12
  • Chelsea goals: 1

Radamel Falcao had failed miserably to make an impact in a loan spell with Manchester United but it seemed as though Mourinho made it his pet project to transform his fortunes by bringing him to Chelsea.

During their time together at Atletico Madrid, Falcao had been the star and Diego Costa the support striker, but their roles were reversed at Chelsea with the Colombian starting on the bench.

He scored just once in Chelsea colours, a consolation against Crystal Palace, and spent most of his time at the club injured. This led to a Monaco return, a move that worked out pretty well for the 2016-17 Ligue 1 champions.

2017-19: Alvaro Morata

  • Joined from: Real Madrid
  • Fee: £70m
  • Chelsea appearances: 72
  • Chelsea goals: 24

After what looked to be a really strong start to life in London, scoring eight goals and notching four assists in his first 11 Premier League games, Morata seemed to be in contention for a Golden Boot along with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane.

Despite a fantastic start to his career at Stamford Bridge, a combination of personal factors and injuries saw his initial form fall off.

After one season, the Spaniard opted to change to the No.29 in celebration of the birth of his twins. Cynics might say that finding an excuse to escape the cursed shirt is a stroke of genius. Nevertheless, Morata left Chelsea on a two-year loan to Atletico Madrid an unfulfilled player. After signing permanently for Diego Simeone, he’s since spent the past two seasons on loan at Juventus.

2019: Gonzalo Higuain

  • Joined from: Juventus
  • Fee: Loan
  • Chelsea appearances: 19
  • Chelsea goals: 5

When Gonzalo Higuain joined Chelsea on loan from Juventus in January 2019, he was supposed to be the star striker that would propel them up the table and at least close to Liverpool and Man City in the title race. In reality, fans were quickly shown why Juve had previously loaned the Argentine to AC Milan.

Sure, Higuain delivered the odd solid performance and moment of brilliance, but it was all interspersed between periods of anonymity. Unsurprisingly, his loan was not extended or made permanent.

2019-21: Tammy Abraham

  • Joined from: Academy
  • Fee: N/A
  • Chelsea appearances: 82
  • Chelsea goals: 30

Some could argue Tammy Abraham has already broken the curse.

In very limited minutes, the 11-time England international managed 30 goals in 82 appearances for his boyhood club, including 15 in 34 Premier League appearances during the 2019/20 season, just after returning from his loan at Aston Villa and being handed the No.9 shirt.

But the fact remains, he was given very limited minutes and is no longer at the club.

The 2020/21 campaign only yielded 12 goals across all competitions, but Abraham managed that in just 32 appearances, most of which came from the bench, while Chelsea pocketed a handsome £34m last summer as Roma acquired his signature.

2021-22: Romelu Lukaku

  • Joined from: Inter Milan
  • Fee: 97.5m
  • Chelsea appearances: 58
  • Chelsea goals: 15

If you weren’t going to consider Abraham as breaking the curse, Romelu Lukaku was surely going to. The Belgian returned to Chelsea eight years after leaving the Blues for Everton, off the back of an excellent spell with Inter Milan in Italy. In 2020/21, Lukaku scored 24 goals in 36 games to help Inter secure the Serie A title, forming a devastating partnership alongside Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku was meant to be the final piece of Chelsea’s puzzle, taking them to the Premier League title. Instead, the Belgian scored just eight Premier League goals in 25 appearances and found himself embroiled in controversy. Already struggling through a drought, just after Christmas an interview with Sky Italia (recorded earlier in the season) was released in which he expressed his desire to return to Inter and slated Thomas Tuchel’s tactics.

Lukaku was dropped for the next game and although later restored, never really returned to form, scoring sporadically. Even though he ended the season as Chelsea’s top scorer across all competitions, his 15 goals is not what the Blues would have expected when they forked out almost £100m for Lukaku.