Uruguayan midfielder Gus Poyet was Chelsea’s first South American superstar and as we’re playing Brighton this weekend, a club he managed with distinction, we look back at his time at Chelsea, as well as highlighting a few other popular players from that continent.
Although some will argue Ken Monkou should take the honour as our first South American, since he was born in Suriname, he was raised in the Netherlands and learned his trade there, so we’ve opted to give the glory to Poyet.
After all, he established the modern trend of goalscoring midfielders wearing the No8 shirt for Chelsea – something which was taken on, and then elevated to extraordinary levels, by our head coach, Frank Lampard.
In fact, Poyet could actually argue that a record of 49 goals from 145 appearances was a Lampard-esque rate of scoring, which must mark him out as one of our best-ever signings considering he came in on a Bosman free transfer
He had that happy knack of being in the right place at the right time to put the ball in the back of the net, most memorably smashing home an acrobatic volley against Sunderland which is up there among the Premier League’s most spectacular.
That season, 1999/00, Poyet finished as our top scorer in the 2000 FA Cup as we became the last side to lift the trophy at the old Wembley Stadium, while he also netted inside 30 seconds as we thrashed Man United 5-0.
A Copa America winner with Uruguay in 1995, Poyet became one of the dressing-room leaders at Stamford Bridge, earning the nickname of The Radio because he was always talking. Oh, and he played his part in helping Real Zaragoza beat Arsenal in the 1994/95 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, so that’s another tick next to his name!
Our current squad has plenty of South American influence, as we’ve got Willian, who stands on the verge of 300 appearances for the Blues, as well as Willy Caballero and Brazilian-born Italian internationals Jorginho and Emerson Palmieri.
In fact, since Poyet we’ve typically had at least one player from the continent, including some real fan favourites.
Brazilian centre-half Alex fell into the cult-hero status. Football pundits love to trot out the line, ‘That one stayed hit’ to denote a shot which is a touch more powerful than the norm. Well, when Alex struck a free-kick, boy did they stay hit! Liverpool, in an epic 4-4 Champions League draw, and Arsenal both found that out to their cost as the big Brazilian larruped in swerving, blockbuster set-pieces which left spectators wide-eyed and having to pick their jaws off the ground.
As a centre-half, Alex combined the power of a boxer and the grace of a ballerina, and he proved to be a more than able partner for JT in the second half of our 2009/10 Double-winning season.
Three years prior to his arrival at Chelsea, Hernan Crespo’s move from Parma to Lazio cost the Rome giants a world-record transfer fee. Although he never quite hit the same heights during his two seasons at the Bridge – punctuated by a year with AC Milan – there were signs of the goalscorer extraordinaire who dazzled in Serie A.
His calculated movements left defenders marking shadows and he didn’t usually require more than one invitation to put the ball in the back of the net. ‘The fans were unbelievable,’ he recalled years later. ‘They sang: “Hello, hello! Hernan Crespo, Hernan Crespo!” I wanted to give something back as I felt I had their respect.’
Oscar also gave plenty back to the fans, although perhaps not quite in the way we may have expected when he first arrived in the summer of 2012. Not everything was as it seemed when it came to the lithe midfielder.
Sure, he looks Brazilian and has all the tricks and flicks you’d associate with a Samba boy; then you see him steam into a tackle and realise he can more than hold his own when it comes to the physical side of the game.
Oscar fits into the mould of a modern playmaker as he’ll tenaciously press the opposition and not look lost when he recovers possession. However, his eye for the spectacular extended to goalscoring and he twice won the club’s Goal of the Season award, including for one stunning effort on his Champions League debut against Juventus.
While that may have been expected of Oscar, the same couldn’t be said of Ramires, who also won the prize twice.
Actually, that shouldn’t come as a surprise – in five-and-a-half years as a Blue, Ramires won every major domestic and European honour going. The Blue Kenyan, as he was known at Cruzeiro, played a major part in our success as an ever-willing runner whose versatility made him a vital squad player, but he also popped up with the occasional spectacular goal.
It is seven years since we won the Champions League, a victory which wouldn’t have been possible without Rammy’s sumptuous chip over the head of Victor Valdes in the Nou Camp, celebrated with a jig of delight. That won the Blues No7 a second consecutive Goal of the Season award and proved there was brilliance to go alongside the brawn.