Interview

Long Read: Hasselbaink on becoming a Blue - 20 years on

Two decades on from him joining Chelsea, we catch up with our much-loved former marksman for a two-part interview, reminiscing about the days when he fired in the goals from everywhere while wearing our shirt…

‘At the end of the season they will look at the goals I have scored and from that they will say you have done well or you have done badly.’ – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in October 2000, on his way to the Premier League Golden Boot, 26 goals in all competitions in his first season and 87 in 177 Chelsea games overall.


It was a transfer completed 20 years ago this month and it was a transfer with which Chelsea equalled the British record fee paid.

It was news that would barely have raised an eyebrow a few years later but this was Chelsea before Roman Abramovich’s ownership. That the club was matching the £15 million fee paid by Newcastle for Alan Shearer four summers earlier meant one thing – we were hoping for guaranteed goals.

Twenty-eight-year-old Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had been away from England for one season. Prior to leaving for Spain he had been the Premier League Golden Boot winner at Leeds and netted 42 goals in 87 games in his two years there, including two to defeat Chelsea on a rainy night in Yorkshire.

At Atletico Madrid his 24 La Liga goals were half of all those scored by his side in that competition and he also hit the target in the Spanish cup final, but he could not stay. Atletico had been relegated.

With his ever-increasing reputation for no-nonsense hitting the back of the net as soon as a sniff of a chance was there, his powerful strike a natural gift, surely Hasselbaink was that source of guaranteed goals, and so he flew to London for secret talks and a medical. Chelsea agreed to match Atletico’s asking price and an agreement was reached to complete the deal after Euro 2000, jointly hosted by his home nation.

But then he was surprisingly left out of the Dutch squad by Frank Rijkaard, despite having outscored the chosen Patrick Kluivert and Roy Makaay during the Spanish season.

So suddenly it was back to London and a five-year deal could be done, Chelsea beating interest in the player from Real Madrid and Valencia, and a bigger offer from a club in Scotland.
 

‘It doesn’t feel like 20 years ago, it feels like yesterday,’ Hasselbaink exclaims as he begins to tell the official Chelsea website this week why he chose to come to Stamford Bridge. ‘By hearing it was 20 years ago I feel old!

‘I’d always had a soft spot for Chelsea. Ruud Gullit had been there, Glenn Hoddle before.

‘They were on their way up and they were trying to play a different brand of football. When I was at Leeds and it was certain I was going to leave Leeds, Chelsea showed interest but Leeds didn’t want to sell to an English club so it didn’t happen. At that time I would have wanted to stay in England so to have that second chance to be able to come to Chelsea was magnificent for me.

‘There were talks with Real Madrid but they did not really make an offer straightaway. We were talking, they said that they were going to make an offer, Chelsea was there and they made that offer. I was in a position to say to Chelsea no, I am going to wait for Real Madrid’s offer to come in but I did not want to lose the opportunity to come to Chelsea and the English game was suited better to me as well.

‘If Real Madrid and Chelsea made an offer at the same time then I had a big decision to make, but luckily the decision was made a lot easier.’
 

More than the pressure of carrying the joint-record price tag, Hasselbaink, a naturally confident character, explains that any pressure he did feel was more due to coming back to England where he had a name and a reputation.

His relationship with Leeds had broken down towards the end of his time there and he was unhappy with how the manner of his departure and the reasons for it were portrayed. In previous interviews on the subject he has stated he felt forced to hand in a transfer request so the Leeds fans could be told he wanted to go.

‘Because of how I left Leeds and the whole hoo-hah and the perception that people had of me when I left Leeds and all those lies,’ he says now, ‘for me to come back to England there was more pressure on me to straightaway hit the ground running, because I knew that if I had not hit it running then all that Leeds stuff would come back.

‘That was more the pressure of it, not the 15 million. At the end of the day that was great negotiation by Atletico Madrid and Chelsea was willing to pay that.

‘That was just how the market was and if you look at the prices now, certain players can handle it and certain players can’t. It is just one of those things and if you want to become a top player, or you want to hit the top and stay there then those figures are going to follow you. If you can’t handle it then you are not destined for the top.’
 

What was unlikely was that he would struggle to match our previous record-signing, Chris Sutton, bought for £10 million the previous year but who left after only one season having scored just three goals.

‘Chris had a difficult time playing the way that he played,’ observes his replacement.

‘I still think that he is a very good striker but you need to play in a certain way. He couldn’t really adapt his game that much. He plays in a certain way so he needs more crosses and those kind of things, and Chelsea was more a team that wanted to keep the ball as long as possible and as long as possible on the floor, so in a way he was struggling a little with that, and in another way the team did not really utilise all his strengths.

‘Timing is everything, isn’t it? It is the same when you are a player and it is the same when you are a manager. It is timing when you come into a club.

‘Chelsea were gagging for a no.9 that was going to score between 15 and 25 goals yearly and they had not had one for a few years, so it is all timing and that is why when I came in and it all worked, and especially the first year, winning the Golden Boot, it made the fans even more appreciative of me.’
 

In fact we had not had a forward hit 20 goals in a season since 1990 and as he had hoped, Hasselbaink did hit the ground running at Chelsea – scoring his first goal in the first half of his first game – the 2000 Charity Shield – and he followed that up with his first in the league a week later, a penalty against West Ham at Stamford Bridge. Both games were won.

‘To score in the Charity Shield was great, that was magnificent, especially playing up against [Man United defender] Jaap Stam who went to the Euros and I didn’t, and he is Dutch and all that kind of stuff, so yes, it was great.

‘When I signed, Frank Leboeuf was the penalty taker and he was going to take that penalty against West Ham but if you have a look at the footage, Dennis Wise as the captain took the ball and he gave it to me.

‘He wanted me to kick off my season straight away because he had the feeling it is all nice and well Frank Leboeuf [a central defender] scoring a goal, scoring a penalty, but if you as a striker have your momentum and you start scoring and feeling good, we have a better chance of doing well than if Frank Leboeuf scores three, four or five penalties a year.

‘That is what Dennis said afterwards. On the pitch itself he did not say that. He gave the ball to me and he said a short sentence with a lot of swearing in it, and the rest is history!’

Indeed it is, with Hasselbaink continuing to score regularly during 2000/01 on the way to the Premier League Golden Boot, including an absolute screamer at Old Trafford in the September, but by then the manager who had signed him, Gianluca Vialli, had been sacked and replaced by Claudio Ranieri, the manager who had brought him to Atletico Madrid just over a year earlier.


In part two of this interview, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will talk about being reunited with Claudio Ranieri, the way he scored his goals, his famous partnership with Eidur Gudjohnsen and his later Chelsea years.

 

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