With Gareth Bale scoring his 100th goal for Real Madrid and Aaron Ramsey joining Juventus, British players moving to Europe has been a hot topic over the last few days, but how did these hugely popular former Blues get on when they crossed the Channel to play on the continent?
Cole’s time at Chelsea has been well chronicled, joining the club in the first summer of the Roman Abramovich era and contributing to huge success his arrival heralded for the next seven years, claiming three Premier League winner’s medals before leaving on a high at the end of our Double-winning 2009/10 campaign.
However, after one year at Liverpool he was on the move again, this time on loan to then-French champions Lille. He wasted no time settling in to his new surroundings, setting up a goal on his debut against Saint-Etienne at the end of an astonishing solo run which left four defenders trailing in his wake.
His young team-mate, and future Blues star, Eden Hazard no doubt approved and the Belgian was even happier a week later when he was the beneficiary of another Cole assist. Cole got a few goals himself, too, including a hat-trick against Chantilly in the Coupe de France, but equally importantly he lent his experience in guiding a young team and aided the development of several rising stars, not least Hazard.
In fact, as strange as it may seem, Lille’s last game of the season signalled of a symbolic changing of the guard as one generation of Chelsea wingers handed the baton to the next. In what would prove to be both of their final appearances for the club – Cole returning to Liverpool that summer as Hazard joined the Blues – the Englishman provided another assist for the Belgian, helping him complete his first hat-trick in senior football.
Just like Bale and Ramsey, Hughes was a star of the Welsh national team. Unlike those two, he also spent three years at Stamford Bridge, helping Chelsea win the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. However, almost a decade before he arrived in west London, and between his two spells at Manchester United, Hughes was recruited to join former Blues midfielder Terry Venables’ British takeover at Barcelona.
‘Sparky’ arrived at the Nou Camp at the same time as another import from the English top flight, Gary Lineker, and on paper their all-British strike partnership looked like a perfect match. Unfortunately, it never really clicked on the pitch and Hughes’ combative style wasn’t appreciated in the same way as it had been at Old Trafford.
The fiery Welshman wasn’t the type to give up on his foreign adventure easily, though, and at the end of his only season in Spain he opted for a loan switch to German giants Bayern Munich, where things went much better. In fact, his performances there saw in such high demand he famously played two matches in the same day, starting Wales’ Euro ‘88 qualifier in Czechoslovakia before changing kits on a flight to Bavaria and touching down in time to come on as a substitute in Bayern’s cup win over Borussia Monchengladbach.
Wilkins was a team-mate of Hughes’ at Manchester United in the early Eighties, having moved to Old Trafford from Stamford Bridge in 1979 after coming through our youth system to become Chelsea captain aged just 18. But his association with the Blues continued long after then, returning as a trusted assistant to Gianluca Vialli, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti, and his bond with the club and fans was clear to see from the outpouring of emotion following his death last year.
Another club who showed how close Wilkins was to their hearts during that side time were AC Milan, where ‘Butch’ played between 1984 and 1987. He impressed the Italian media and fans with his intelligent play and range of passing at San Siro, and by his own admission benefited greatly from the increased focus on fitness and match preparation in Italy.
His place in the Rossoneri fans’ hearts was sealed with some outstanding performances in a string of derby victories over city rivals Inter Milan, but with big changes taking place at the club he moved on at the end of the 1986/87 season, briefly featuring for Paris Saint-Germain before returning to west London, albeit with Queens Park Rangers.
Hoddle only made 22 appearances in his two seasons as a Chelsea player, but that is hardly surprising given that he was combining those duties with his role as manager, before hanging up his boots to concentrate solely on coaching in 1995.
His time in charge at Stamford Bridge left a lasting legacy, with the England international player and manager often credited with kick-starting the change in style and culture which would go on to see us become serious challengers at the sharp end of the top flight again and bring silverware back to SW6 later in the decade.
Hoddle’s footballing philosophy borrowed heavily from the continental game and was no doubt influenced by the three-and-a-half years he spent at Monaco between 1987 and 1990. There he played under Arsene Wenger, who would go on to become one of Chelsea’s fiercest rivals with Arsenal, and alongside future Blues striker George Weah and Mark Hateley, a team-mate of Ray Wilkins at AC Milan and son of former Chelsea forward Tony.
More importantly, he showed himself more than capable of shining on both sides of the Channel by helping Monaco to be crowned champions in his first season and winning the award for French football’s best foreign player.