EUROPEAN TALES: FULL-BACKS TO THE FORE, 1997/98

In the second of a mini-series recounting a particular story from each of our triumphant European campaigns ahead of the return of Champions League football this month, we recall some unsung performers who helped us get up and running in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 97/98…

In the space of five short months in 1997, Chelsea signed three left-backs, each more expensive than the previous.

First to join was Danny Granville from Cambridge United in March, for a total of £300,000. Then came Celestine Babayaro, an exciting young Nigerian worth £2.25 million, a club record fee for a teenager at the time. Finally, in August, Graeme Le Saux returned ‘home’ after four years at Blackburn. The transfer fee of £5 million made him the most expensive defender in the country.

Injuries proved problematic for all three in 1997/98, but they did give the lesser-known Granville chances to play. He started our first European game of the season, a 2-0 home win over Slovan Bratislava (pictured top), and our last, the hard-fought success against Stuttgart in Stockholm. For that he will always have a place in the Chelsea history books.

Granville also netted his one and only goal against Slovan. It was the other full-back, Paul Hughes, who set him up having earlier started the move for Roberto Di Matteo’s opener in a game in which we had 29 attempts.

Hughes had come through our Academy and made a goalscoring debut against Derby the season before. A technically proficient and tactically solid player, he was best known as a midfielder. However, injury problems at right-back meant he enjoyed a four-game run there, starting with the Slovan game.

His pass to Granville for our second goal was crisp and well-timed. The left-back found himself in the heart of the penalty area, and after controlling the ball he cutely lifted it over a retreating defender before volleying it into the Matthew Harding Stand net.

Fast-forward a fortnight and all three left-backs featured in Slovakia for the second leg, including Babayaro, who made his Chelsea debut off the bench at half-time having recovered from a pre-season injury. He and Le Saux were involved in the build-up to our second goal in what turned out to be another routine 2-0 victory, before the England international was replaced by Granville.

In all, Granville played 21 times for Chelsea. He made only one more appearance in the Cup Winners’ Cup – away to Tromso – before lining up for the showpiece in Sweden some seven months later.

Hughes managed just a handful more games for us before moving on in the summer. Le Saux and Babayaro were injured for the final but could join in the celebrations and collect winners’ medals; a few months later, they both played the full 90 minutes as we beat Real Madrid in the Super Cup.

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