My Blue Days: Celestine Babayaro

The latest former Chelsea player to answer a selection of questions on his time at the club is Celestine Babayaro, our left-sided player from Nigeria who was part of our trophy success in 1998 and 2000.

Signed as a teenager, he was the club’s first African player and made nearly 200 appearances, his final few at the start of 2004/05 when we won the Premier League…

Tell us about how you came to sign for Chelsea?

I signed following the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Nigeria won the gold medal and I got back to Belgium and the president of the club I was at, Anderlecht, told me about the interest from Chelsea and that is how I moved over to Chelsea in the summer of 1997, just after they had won the FA Cup.

It wasn’t a difficult decision at all. While I was at Anderlecht we watched the Premier League and I knew Ruud Gullit was the manager and Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo were here. Guys I looked up to. When I heard about Chelsea wanting me there was no hesitation at all. I had to jump on it.

What were your immediate impressions of the club?

On my way here I was excited anyway and I saw another level from Anderlecht. It was the same people I had seen on telly and it was a step ahead of what I was used to and it was an amazing experience. Even though the training ground was not great, when there were Gullit, Zola, Vialli there, the pitch was not really what I was looking at, I was looking at the superstars.

What about Stamford Bridge itself?

Stamford Bridge was exciting, I remember the first time I ran out there was amazing, with the crowd singing your name. It was an experience you can never forget. It took a while for me to make my debut as I had broken my fifth metatarsal. There were rumours I did it back-flipping but I didn’t. It was in a training session in a one-v-one challenge.

What do you remember about the backing the team received from the fans, both home and away, during your time at the club? Any particular games stand out in terms of atmosphere?

At Stamford Bridge the fans were always amazing, and whenever they saw you on the Fulham Road or King’s Road they would grab autographs and take pictures. I can remember going to play at Manchester United and that was a game I always looked forward to playing in.

Of all the managers you worked under here, who had the biggest influence on you, your game or your career?

Ruud Gullit had an influence because he was the manager who signed me and he was someone I had looked up to when he was one of the three Dutch masters with Van Basten and Rijkaard. When I saw him in person, I was like wow!

Tell us about some of the most memorable games you were involved in for Chelsea…

I played in the FA Cup final when we beat Aston Villa and the Super Cup against Real Madrid when Gustavo scored and it was 1-0. I did enjoy that one. In the Champions League I scored against Feyenoord when someone crossed and I did a diving header. That was a great goal and I did do a back flip that time so I liked that one.

Which team-mates were you closest to during your time here? Are you still in touch with them now?

When I first arrived I was close to Roberto Di Matteo, he showed where to go, restaurants to eat in, and I was pretty close to Gianfranco. I went to his house to have dinner which is why every time I see him I say to him to say hello to his wife for me. I still stay in touch with most of my team-mates - Wisey, Gus - and I saw them all again at that Legends game against Inter Milan.

Were there any opposition teams or players you particularly disliked facing and if so, why?

They were all difficult games in the Premier League but it was especially a big game if I was going to play against my mate Kanu at Arsenal. I did not want to lose and I was gutted when he scored the three goals against us at Stamford Bridge! We were 2-0 up and I thought we had won and suddenly he was doing these tricks against us that I had never seen before.

How do you look back on your time at Chelsea overall? Is there anything you would change or do differently?

I would not change anything at all. I enjoyed my time at Chelsea and I am no.1 Chelsea fan. I honestly do not miss any game. Even if I am not there live I am watching on telly.

So what do you think of this season so far?

Brilliant. I love it so far and I love Maurizio Sarri, his ways are amazing. You saw the kind of football he played at Napoli and I think he is bringing the same here and you can see in the games so far that Chelsea are different class.