Football Features

The nearly-joined Chelsea combined XI would be strong UCL contenders

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:28, 28 May 2021

When Roman Abramovich took over in 2003, Chelsea made a name for themselves in luring stars to Stamford Bridge.

The likes of Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Claude Makelele and Ricardo Carvalho — among many others — joined within the first two seasons, helping the Blues win back-to-back Premier League titles.

As the years have gone on, Chelsea have still managed to sign highly sought-after stars, including Eden Hazard, that have gone on to be a success at the club.

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But not every player Chelsea have targeted has made the switch to Stamford Bridge. Whether it be due to contractual reasons, disagreements between clubs or personal decisions, some of Chelsea’s targets have opted against joining the Blues.

While Chelsea have dodged bullets with some of the failed moves, there are a number of players who have gone on to star at other clubs, leading fans wondering what if…

So, just who are these players, still knocking about that Chelsea appeared close to signing? We’ve put together a combined XI that’s pretty frightening.

Goalkeeper: Alphonse Areola

Age: 28
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain)

In the summer of 2018, Chelsea lost Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid and did not appear to have an immediate replacement lined up. They eventually broke the transfer record for a goalkeeper in signing Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao, triggering his £72m release clause.

But Alphonse Areola was another goalkeeper they could have signed, with the Frenchman reportedly keen on joining Chelsea — according to the club’s goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon.

Speaking to Le Figaro in September, 2018, Lollichon said: “We spoke a lot in the summer. He wanted to come here, but the final decision was not my responsibility. It would have been a pleasure to work with him.”

Areola ultimately stayed at PSG, sharing goalkeeping responsibilities with Gianluigi Buffon before joining Real Madrid on loan in 2019, playing back-up to Thibaut Courtois. He did finally get a move to West London last year, but only a temporary switch to Fulham, where he impressed despite the Cottagers suffering relegation.

Right-back: Dani Alves

Age: 38
Current club: Sao Paulo

Dani Alves is one of the most successful footballers of all time, winning an array of trophies across his club career. He enjoyed his best spell with Barcelona, joining from Sevilla in 2008 and eventually leaving in 2016.

But things could have been so much different if Alves had moved to Chelsea, having been linked heavily in 2007.

Speaking in 2018, Alves revealed he had gone as far as agreeing to sign for Chelsea before the deal failed and had looked forward to testing himself under Jose Mourinho.

“I didn’t go to Chelsea because of the club, not because of me,” he told Sky Sports.

“I thought it was done, that I was going there to work with him [Mourinho]. I don’t know if he got different information, that I didn’t want to go or whatever, because since then our relationship hasn’t been so good, but it wasn’t my fault.

“I was convinced that I was going to work with him and form part of his team.”

Centre-back: Medhi Benatia

Age: 34
Current club: Al-Duhail

During Jose Mourinho’s first spell in charge at Chelsea, the Blues were blessed with centre-backs, having the likes of John Terry, William Gallas, Ricardo Carvalho and a young Robert Huth among their ranks.

But they weren’t happy with that, and handed Medhi Benatia a trial, when the Moroccan was a young centre-back coming through at Marseille.

And, according to Benatia, he was handed a three-year contract by Chelsea before turning it down as he was not ready to move abroad.

“I did a test of three or four days in London,” he said. “I lived with Didier Drogba and Claude Makelele. They were a great team but I did not feel ready to go.

“I was offered a three-year contract but I was fine at Marseille and the idea of moving abroad scared me.”

Benatia stayed in France until 2010, eventually leaving for AS Roma before enjoying spells with Bayern Munich and Juventus. He now players for Qatari club Al-Duhail

Centre-back: John Stones

Manchester City’s John Stones

Age: 27
Current club: Manchester City

It was one of the more recent transfer sagas involving Chelsea, with the Blues chasing John Stones in 2015.

Then 21, the centre-back had enjoyed a good season with Everton and was being linked with a move to Chelsea who were looking to build on their title-winning side, but no deal came. Everton fans took delight in their failings, ensuring money couldn’t buy you Stones.

One year later Stones did leave Everton for Manchester City, though. Chelsea were once again interested at the time, but the centre-back later revealed the appeal of playing under Pep Guardiola led him to snub the Blues.

“It was something I couldn’t turn down,” he said in 2016.

“For anyone in my position, when Pep wants you to join the club, it’s a no-brainer. He’s the best manager in the world, and to be given the opportunity to learn from him was massive.

“I watched Pep when he was at Barcelona and Bayern, but now that I’m here working with him it’s even better than I expected.

“He gets us all on the same page, knowing our jobs and responsibilities when we’re on the pitch. For any manager, getting that across to the players is one of the biggest things, and he does it well. We all go out there knowing how we want to play and how we should play.”

Stones has formed a superb centre-back partnership with Ruben Dias recently and will contest the 2021 Champions League final against… you guessed it. Chelsea!

Left-back: Luke Shaw

Age: 25
Current club: Manchester United

Chelsea have long been searching for a replacement for Ashley Cole, signing the likes of Filipe Luis, Baba Rahman, Marcos Alonso and Emerson with varying success.

In 2014, Mourinho’s Chelsea were chasing then-19-year-old Luke Shaw, at the time the latest of a line of young stars from Southampton, and a boyhood Blues fan.

Shaw ultimately chose Manchester United, of course, and later joked with Mourinho about rejecting his previous bid to recruit him when the pair eventually worked together at Old Trafford.

Shaw has struggled with frequent criticism (from both fans and the club’s management) at United but has flourished under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season. He’s even earned a recall to Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

Central midfielder: Paul Pogba

Age: 28
Current club: Manchester United

Paul Pogba rejoined Manchester United in 2016 on a then-world-record fee of £89m, linking up with Mourinho.

Had Mourinho got his way a year earlier, Pogba would have joined Chelsea. However, any interest was quickly squashed by an agreement between Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola and Juventus, the midfielder’s employers at the time.

“Paul could have left last year because Mourinho – then at Chelsea – really wanted him,” Raiola said in 2016. “But Juventus and I had an agreement: win the league title and the Champions League, then he can go.”

Pogba did win another Serie A title with Juventus but fell very short in the Champions League, with the Bianconeri knocked out at the last-16 stage.

This time, a transfer move would not be blocked and Pogba made his return to United.

Central midfielder: Radja Nainggolan

Age: 33
Current club: Inter Milan

Under Antonio Conte, there didn’t seem to be a transfer window where Radja Nainggolan wasn’t being linked with a move to Chelsea.

The Belgian midfielder had made a name for himself as a top-quality midfielder while at AS Roma, with excellent passing abilities and an eye for a goal. These qualities made Nainggolan a target for various Premier League teams, in particular Conte’s Chelsea.

But Nainggolan ended up staying with Roma until 2018, before leaving for Inter, admitting he turned down Chelsea as money did not motivate him at the time.

“There was a little something, nothing serious,” Nainggolan told Il Tempo in 2018.

“I’d be a liar if I said money didn’t interest me, I’m 30… But the truth is that in the past I rejected important offers, two years ago I could have gone to Chelsea and earned more, but for me, there is not only the economic aspect.”

Attacking midfielder: David Silva

Age: 35
Current club: Real Sociedad

David Silva might just be the greatest player in Manchester City’s history, but before he joined in 2010, the Spaniard was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea.

Having won the double under Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea were looking to bolster their midfield with Joe Cole and Michael Ballack and targeted Silva. The midfielder spoke highly of Chelsea at the time, insisting they had the best squad in football alongside Barcelona.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Chelsea would be a great club to play for,” Silva told the press in 2010. “And a club where I could fulfil my ambition of league titles and the European Cup. The Premier League is still the place to be. No other league in the world has six or seven Champions League-quality teams.”

Silva is now back in Spain with Real Sociedad but in an alternate universe, he’s playing for Chelsea in this week’s Champions League final.

Right-winger: Neymar

Age: 29
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain

Neymar is one of the best footballers in the world and made a name for himself in Europe with Barcelona, joining the Spanish club from Santos in 2013.

But three years earlier he was subject to an official bid from Chelsea. And, according to Neymar himself, the bid was rejected after Santos promised to make him a national hero. There was even a phone call from Pele, no less.

“It was August 23, 2010. My father and I had a meeting with president Luis Alvaro at the Santos headquarters inside the Vila Belmiro. Chelsea had made a huge transfer bid,” he wrote in his autobiography, via Sky Sports.

“In the middle of our conversation, the president turned off the lights and pointed at an empty chair. ‘This is the chair of the great national sports hero.

“Since Ayrton Senna’s death, this chair is vacant. If Neymar Jr stays in Santos and refuses Chelsea’s proposal, he will give his first step to sit in this chair.’

“That made us think. That decision would be a turning point in my life. Even Pele called me. Can you imagine how important I felt? The King of Football called me and asked me to stay.

“He reminded me of his entire career with Santos, his five world titles with the national team and the club, and all the recognition he received.

“It wasn’t easy but it was the right decision for us. We did the right thing for our friends and my career.”

Striker: Sergio Aguero

Age: 32
Current club: Manchester City

Probably the biggest ‘one that got away’ for Chelsea is Sergio Aguero, who looked nailed on to join the Blues in 2010. It was a transfer that might have led to a frightening partnership with Didier Drogba.

The interest, which started in 2009, was only heightened by Aguero’s performance against Chelsea in the Champions League group stage, scoring twice in a 2-2 draw while Drogba grabbed both goals for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

However, Aguero stayed with Atletico through the 2010/11 season before joining Manchester City and becoming one of the deadliest strikers in Premier League history as well as the club’s all-time top scorer. To make matters worse for Chelsea, Aguero has gone on to become the bane of their life, scoring 15 goals in 22 games against the Blues for Man City. Against no other club does he have more goals.

According to reports, John Terry was one of the reasons for Aguero’s failed move, having not been a fan of the striker. However, Terry would slam these claims, saying in an Instagram story: “Where do these stories come from? If they bothered calling player’s agents it would solve an awful lot of nonsense!”

Chelsea can now breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of Aguero leaving Man City at the end of this season, seemingly set for a move to Barcelona.

Left-winger: Kylian Mbappe

Age: 22
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain

Kylian Mbappe made headlines in 2016/17 with a youthful Monaco side, helping them win Ligue 1 and reach the Champions League semi-final. Despite his young age, Mbappe played with maturity beyond his years and was garnering comparisons to Brazilian legend Ronaldo (comparisons that continue to this day).

He has since gone on to win the World Cup and more Ligue 1 titles with PSG, but things could have been so much different.

Before he joined Monaco, Mbappe had a trial with Chelsea while representing youth club AS Bondy. The club missed out when Mbappe’s mother took offence to their request for another trial.

Speaking to Goal, former Chelsea scout Serge Daniel Boga said: “I brought him over with his family. He was skilful, like he is now. He played against Charlton and won 7-0.

“After a week at Chelsea, we went into the office. We said ‘Listen, we appreciate what we saw from you but we have to invite you back for another trial and we’ll see after that.

“I remember what the mother said to this day. She spoke in French to Fraser and I was translating. She said to me, ‘Listen, my boy won’t be coming back. If they want him they have to take him now or in five year’s time they will be coming back to buy him for €50 million!’

“That’s what she said to me! I said, ‘No I can’t say that to them. It is too cocky for me.’

“She was right, though. It wasn’t even €50m, but €180m that someone would pay. So, she knew the quality of her son and she was right.”

Mbappe has also spoken of his trial at Chelsea, revealing his Bondy teammates did not believe him until he showed them pictures.

 

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