Winner of two Champions Leagues and two Europa Leagues, Chelsea legend Paulo Ferreira knows what it takes to conquer Europe – and he's backing the current squad to repeat recent history ahead of our finely-poised semi-final second leg against Eintracht Frankfurt.
It is 15 years since Ferreira arrived at Stamford Bridge and on the night the Blues became Champions of Europe in 2012, he warmed up with the starting XI, ready to step in at the last minute if David Luiz or Gary Cahill felt a late injury relapse.
The following campaign he was there to shore up a team in transition, seeing us beat his old rivals Benfica to lift the Europa League before hanging up his boots, becoming a club ambassador, and to this day working with our young loan players at clubs in the UK and abroad.
Now, with Chelsea hoping to turn our promising 1-1 draw in Germany into a place in the Europa League final in Baku on 29 May, Ferreira is confident about the current side's chances of matching the European success of their predecessors from his playing days.
‘Looking at our squad, I think we have a team capable of winning it,’ he said in an interview with UEFA, adding he has been impressed by our Thursday night form over the past eight months. ‘I think it's been fantastic. I think what the manager is doing, trying to rotate the players, and you can see how the team is still delivering. What they have been doing so far has been great.’
‘I think we have to believe we have a chance of winning the trophy,’ he continued. ‘When you've reached the semi-finals, it's realistic to want to win the competition. But you have to be careful because there’s another team on the other side, whom you have to respect.’
Speaking with his coach's hat on, however, Ferreira left no doubt about the threat Eintracht Frankfurt will offer in tonight's semi-final decider, as demonstrated by their lightning start in the first leg last week, until Pedro cancelled out Luka Jovic's early goal just before half-time.
‘They’ve been doing really well,’ he said. ‘They’ve shown that they have a good team, even with some young players. In the round of 16, they beat Inter Milan, so you can see how good of a team they are.
‘Even in the first leg of the quarter-final against Benfica, after almost 70 minutes with 10 men, they lost the game [4-2], but they showed character in the way they fought, and managed to take the game into the second leg, and they believed they could win the tie and they did. They're a dangerous team,’ he warned.
‘I think we’re aware of their strengths. So that’s why you have to be careful and respect the opposition because they have good players as well. But, of course, we are Chelsea and we have top players in our side that can make a difference at any time in the match.’
Ferreira, who turned 40 this year, is well qualified to judge European pedigree. Not only did he help the Blues to our successive European cups, he had already done it in reverse a decade earlier, winning the UEFA Cup, followed by the Champions League, along with Jose Mourinho and Ricardo Carvalho at Porto in the two years before the trio came to London together.
Although it doesn't take an expert to pinpoint the talents of our top scorer Eden Hazard, Ferreira stressed the importance of playing well as a unit if the Blues are to make it past Eintracht in this tie and then either Valencia or our London rivals Arsenal in the final.
‘Of course, when you have one of the best players in the world in our team in Eden Hazard, that makes things easier. He’s an outstanding player, I was fortunate enough to play with him when he arrived and you could see how talented he was,’ Ferreira praised.
‘He’s been doing really well again this season and showing why he’s one of the best. So, of course, it’s great for us to have a player like him who can decide a game. But, collectively, we also have a good team. Without that, the best players can’t always make the difference when you don’t have a group that’s good collectively.’
Our defensive stalwart also shared some of his own memories in the Europa League with Chelsea, as we came back from the disappointment of dropping out of the Champions League so soon after our glorious night in Munich to thrive in the knockout stages.
‘It was quite hard to accept. But credit to the manager because Rafa Benitez then came in, and credit to the players as well because we said to ourselves: “this has happened to us. It is what it is. We need to move on, and this is an important competition as well.”
‘The players did what they had to do. They were top professionals, showed great attitude and we ended up winning the competition because I think we had a fantastic team and all the way until the final we showed we were much better and more consistent.’
The lesson coach Ferreira would have for our new Europa League contenders – clear both from his experience and other results in Europe – is that you don't have to be the better team on paper, but simply the more resilient and determined on the day.
‘We ended up winning the competition, playing against Benfica, a good side. They did very well too and, in my opinion, they were a much better team than us in general, but, in the end, everyone will only remember the team who actually went and earned the win.
‘When you play in a final, it is to win, whether you play well or not. You just need to win and lift that trophy because it’s what everyone will remember. We were pleased with that, especially me, because it was my last season at the club and there was nothing better than finishing my career with a significant trophy.’
Paulo Ferreira is also the subject of Blue Days in tonight's matchday programme where he will be speaking about the rest of his Chelsea career. The programme also features articles on Roberto Di Matteo, Didier Drogba and Andreas Christensen, plus a special captain's column from Gary Cahill.