Football Features

Forgotten Chelsea players, from Fabio Borini to the ‘trivela’ king

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:50, 22 March 2021

Historically, the likes of Peter Osgood, Kerry Dixon and Bobby Tambling once shone at Chelsea, while the Roman Abramovich era is most heavily associated with Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Eden Hazard and Co.

But for every Hazard or Drogba, there is a Mateja Kezman or Juan Sebastian Veron, players whose Chelsea spells will be remembered for the reasons other than they might have hoped.

But what about those players whose Chelsea spells that just don’t get remembered full stop? If at least one of the names on the list below doesn’t provoke a spit-take, let us know in the comments section below and we’ll try harder next time.

Scott Sinclair

Age: 32

Chelsea first-team appearances: 14

Chelsea goals: 1

Current club: Preston North End

Scooped up from the Bristol Rovers youth academy, Scott Sinclair was highly-rated when he signed for Chelsea in 2005.

Unfortunately, during his five years at Stamford Bridge, which included six loan spells, Sinclair couldn’t break into the first-team set-up and only made 14 appearances for the Blues. An impressive stint with Swansea City earned another move to a big club, Manchester City, but once again Sinclair struggled.

After loan moves with West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa, he moved to Celtic. There, he enjoyed success under Brendan Rodgers including being part of Celtic’s Invincibles squad of 2016/17 before finally leaving for Preston North End in January 2020.

Jeffrey Bruma

Age: 29

Chelsea first-team appearances: 10

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: Wolfsburg

When Jeffrey Bruma joined Chelsea as a 16-year-old in 2007 there were high hopes the centre-back to become the club’s long-term partner (and eventual successor) to John Terry. Bruma himself even admitted his hopes of emulating the Chelsea legend, saying in 2011: “Terry was my tutor at Chelsea, (he) invested quite a lot of time and energy in me and even sent me text messages when I was loaned out to Leicester City. His level is my aim.”

But the Dutchman ultimately joined the long list of Chelsea youngsters eventually pushed out of the club by the signing of bigger names. Bruma would make just 10 appearances for Chelsea’s first team before going out on loan twice, to Leicester and then Hamburg. He left Chelsea permanently in 2013, joining PSV and then Wolfsburg, with loan spells at Schalke and Mainz.

Jeremie Boga

Age: 24

Chelsea first-team appearances: 1

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: Sassuolo

Jeremie Boga has been an excellent player for Sassuolo,Β  and spent last summer linked with a move away to brighter things.

But things could have been so different for the winger, had his Premier League debut lasted longer than 18 minutes. On the opening day of the 2017/18 season, Jeremie Boga was handed a place in Chelsea’s starting XI to face Burnley, in what looked to be the start of his Blues career.

However, Gary Cahill was sent off early on and Boga was the man Antonio Conte chose to bring off for Andreas Christensen, thus ending his debut early. Shortly after he was loaned to Birmingham and finally sold to Sassuolo in 2018, with Chelsea having a Β£7m buy-back clause which they did eventually waive.

Fabio Borini

Age: 29

Chelsea first-team appearances: 8

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: Karagumruk

Another young player who failed to break into Chelsea’s first-team is Fabio Borini. Like Bruma, though, he did make a handful of appearances before leaving.

The Italian spent four years with the Blues between 2007 and 2011 but two months of that period was spent on loan at Swansea. After spells with Parma and Roma in Serie A, Borini returned to England with Liverpool and then Sunderland, enjoying some success with the latter. Borini went on to score more goals against Chelsea (four) than he did for them including one in Sunderland’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge in 2014 that ended Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten Premier League home record at 78.

After spells in Italy with (surprisingly) AC Milan and Hellas Verona, Borini is now at Turkish club Karagumruk.

Oriol Romeu

Age: 29

Chelsea first-team appearances: 33

Chelsea goals: 1

Current club: Southampton

Once a highly-rated member of Barcelona’s La Masia, Oriol Romeu made the move to England in 2011, signing for Chelsea. But, like many before him, the Spaniard struggled to nail down a permanent spot in the Blues’ first team, though injury problems played their part.

Believe it or not, Romeu actually made 33 first-team appearances for Chelsea and was an unused substitute in their 2012 Champions League win, securing him a medal.

After loan spells with Valencia and Stuttgart, Romeu joined Southampton in 2015 where he remains.

Ricardo Quaresma

Age: 37

Chelsea first-team appearances: 5

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: Vitoria Guimaraes

Chelsea have been known for making the most of the loan market, sending young players out for valuable experience, but they haven’t really used it recently to bring in players (with the exception of Mateo Kovacic in 2018). Perhaps Ricardo Quaresma is why.

The Portuguese international and ‘trivela’ king joined Chelsea on loan from Inter Milan on February 2, 2009, back when former Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge. Quaresma’s arrival elicited some excitement among fans, as he was known for his abilities on the ball. But less than a week later Scolari was sacked and Quaresma’s Chelsea future looked over before it began.

Before returning to Inter he did make five appearances and set up one goal, against Coventry City in the FA Cup after a good run, but only Chelsea supporters will remember that high. Quaresma is now back in Portugal with Vitoria after spells with Bestikas, Porto, Al-Ahli and Kasimpasa.

Franco Di Santo

Age: 31

Chelsea first-team appearances: 16

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: San Lorenzo

Franco Di Santo spent just two seasons at Chelsea, between 2008 and 2010, and it’s easy to see why. A young striker at the time, Di Santo had the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou ahead of him in the pecking order, restricting the Argentinian to just 16 appearances for the Blues.

A loan spell at Blackburn Rovers preceded a permanent move to Wigan Athletic, where he enjoyed slightly more success – and with whom he will almost always be associated in English football. Werder Bremen, Schalke, Rayo Vallecano, Atletico Mineiro and San Lorenzo have all followed.

Papy Djilobodji

Age: 31

Chelsea first-team appearances: 1

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: Gaziantep

Ah, Papy Djilobodji. Everyone will remember he played for Chelsea, but do they remember he actually played for Chelsea? The Senegalese centre-back joined Chelsea from Nantes in September 2015 and was part of a tumultuous time at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues and Jose Mourinho fell apart.

Shortly after Mourinho’s departure, Djilobodji was loaned to Dijon, but not before he played 59 seconds against Walsall in the League Cup. Djilobodji was somehow sold to Sunderland for a profit but fared no better in the North East, eventually being released.

Patrick van Aanholt

Age: 30

Chelsea first-team appearances: 8

Chelsea goals: 1

Current club: Crystal Palace

Patrick van Aanholt spent seven years in west London before finally moving on and was one of the first players to fall victim to the club’s love of the loan system.

The Dutchman joined in 2007, a highly-rated left-back, but there was just one obstacle in his path to the first-team: Ashley Cole. For a long period of time, Chelsea had arguably the best left-back in the world, meaning the likes of Van Aanholt and Ryan Bertrand failed to find a place in the first team.

On top of his eight appearances for Chelsea, Van Aanholt had five different loan spells, finally leaving for Sunderland in 2014. He’s still in London, being a key part of Crystal Palace’s teams since January 2017.

Thorgan Hazard

Age: 27

Chelsea first-team appearances: 0

Chelsea goals: 0

Current club: Borussia Dortmund

In the summer Eden Hazard signed for Chelsea, the club also brought the Belgian’s younger Thorgan Hazard to London – later completing the set of adult Hazards with Kylian in 2017.

Unlike Eden, Thorgan did not have an impact on Chelsea’s first team and made just one appearance for their developmental squad against Manchester City in August 2012. He was almost immediately loaned to Zulte Waregem and spent two years in Belgium, scoring 21 goals and recording 29 assists as well as being named Belgium’s Player of the Year in his second campaign.

Another loan followed for Hazard in 2014, this time to Borussia Monchengladbach but that would be his last temporary move away from Chelsea, breaking the cycle early to make his say at Gladbach permanent. Hazard spent five years at Gladbach in total building his reputation as one of the Bundesliga’s better players, before securing a move to Borussia Dortmund in 2019 – where he has been a part of exciting sides.

The better Hazard?

Academy ‘dropouts’

As many in the footballing world will know, a player’s time with a club may end before they’re even given a chance to get first-team action, sometimes while still in their adolescent years. And Chelsea have let go of their fair share of Premier League stars.

Eddie Nketiah

Age: 21

Current club: Arsenal

Arsenal’s young striker, Eddie Nketiah, started life at another London club, joining Chelsea as a youngster. However, he was released at under-14s level and made the move to the Gunners, where he remains now, becoming a first-team squad member under Mikel Arteta.

Rhian Brewster

Age: 20

Current club: Sheffield United

For many, Rhian Brewster is a (now-former) Liverpool youngster, but the teenager actually started out at Chelsea, signing as a seven-year-old.

Aged 14, in 2015, Brewster made the move to Liverpool, worried by the lack of Chelsea academy players breaking into the first team at the time. But he left Liverpool permanently last summer, signing for Sheffield United in a club-record Β£23.5million move.

Declan Rice

Age: 22

Current club: West Ham United

Perhaps the most famous of Chelsea academy dropouts, Declan Rice spent eight years with the club between the ages of six and 14. During that time he built a friendship with Mason Mount that still holds to this day. Rice now finds himself thriving at West Ham, of course, after being released by the Blues.

Andy King

Age: 32

Current club: OH Leuven

Andy King will be remembered by Leicester City fans as a member of their Premier League title-winning side, having been with the club from the academy. But before he joined the Foxes, King spent six years in Chelsea’s youth system, joining in 1998 and leaving six years later.

Chris Mepham

Age: 23

Current club: Bournemouth

Chris Mepham joined Chelsea’s youth academy at the age of 10, but was released just four years later. After being turned down by QPR and Watford, Mepham finally found a home with Brentford, where he stayed until January 2019, signing for Bournemouth.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson

Age: 30

Current club: Burnley

Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s spell with Chelsea was very brief, training with the Blues’ academy as a teenager before making the short move to Fulham. He moved back to his native Iceland in 2007 but would return to England seven years later with Charlton.