Interview

Long Read part two: Hasselbaink on loving life at Chelsea

In part two of our exclusive interview with our former star striker we move on to Claudio Ranieri, Eidur Gudjohnsen and not wanting to leave…

Having become Chelsea’s then-most-expensive player 20 years ago this month, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink quickly began to pay off the fee.

He spoke in part one of this interview about equalling the British record transfer fee and scoring in his first two Chelsea games.

He continued to quickly win the hearts of Blues fans with strikes against big rivals Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool and Tottenham in the first three months. He also recorded the only four-goal haul of his career in a match against Coventry at Stamford Bridge.

There were some typically outstanding strikes among those listed, not least when he thrashed in a ball he chested down on the edge of the area at Old Trafford, a goal that also marked the start of the Claudio Ranieri era at Chelsea.
 

The Chelsea board had parted company with Gianluca Vialli six games into the 2000/01 season and went against their recent trend by appointing an experienced manager as replacement, a manager fresh to England too.

Ranieri may have been a new name to many here but not to Hasselbaink. They had been together at Atletico Madrid the season before with the player remaining at a then turbulent club for just one season and the manager slightly less.

‘I think it was a kind of comfort for him [Ranieri] when he arrived at Chelsea, that he at least had somebody that he knew and he had already coached and he could ask about things,’ says Hasselbaink, thinking back to the autumn of 2000.

‘Claudio is Claudio, he was always going to be a bit different and do things his way. He had to adapt a lot in England, and in the beginning it was strange because I knew what was coming and that you did not do these kind of things in England.

‘But he wanted to bring things in. It was not easy in the beginning culture-wise. For instance we stopped having Wednesdays off when we did not have a midweek game. That did not go down well at all because the players they were not used to that.

‘They were not used to training two times per day and we had really long sessions.
 

‘It has become the normal now not to have a day off in the middle of the week but things he was changing were unknown then and it is difficult to change it that radically straightaway. It just was not possible. He had to do it step by step, even though he might have been right with no days off. The boys were just not used to it and so he had to do it a different way to get there.’

While some of the squad might have struggled with the new regime at first, Hasselbaink’s performances on the pitch indicated he was not one of them. From the start of December until the end of the 2000/01 season he scored in 13 of the 22 games he played, including five of the team’s final six goals as we clinched a place in Europe on the final day.

After that Premiership Golden Boot season, he scored three goals more in all competitions (29 in total) in his second Chelsea year but it had steadily become clear there was more to Jimmy’s game than just rifling the ball into the net. Though no one would claim he was a complete player, there was at times finesse, variety and intelligence about how he found the target and he was a provider of assists, when playing with Gianfranco Zola early on and then when his famous partnership with Eidur Gudjohnsen flourished in season two.

‘I think I am not really well-praised for it but I always have given assists and even with Gianfranco, we tried to complement each other,’ Hasselbaink observes.

‘We all respect Gianfranco and what he stood for and how he played, and I had to play differently with Gianfranco than I did with Eidur Gudjohnsen and with Tore Andre Flo, or with Carlton Cole or whoever. But you learn and you look at how you want to complement each other because if you work together then you get more chance of disrupting the opposition’s back line.

‘The partnership with Eidur was not worked on but it was very, very special, and it was also very pleasant. It was very easy and it just clicked, the understanding was just there and it was like a tandem, and it just fitted very well.’
 

As the two of them played each other in to score time and time again, they were the most prolific Chelsea strike partnership since Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson three decades earlier, and arguably the last genuine, enduring pairing we have had upfront as football tactics and formations have changed.

‘We were playing a kind of 4-4-2 but it was more like a 4-4-1-1 with Eidur connecting with the midfield. At times he was in midfield and at times when he was tired I dropped into midfield just to help the midfielders out, but then as soon as we could attack we could find each other.

‘You don’t see those partnerships anymore, and also the number nines, how we knew them back in the day. It looks like they are going out of fashion now, so it is a different way of playing at the moment.’

So what was the JFH secret to finding the net so regularly?

‘You have to have instincts, your feeling has to be right, but the majority of goals, it depends on what kind of situation you are in. If the majority of the time you keep it low and you can hit the ball quite firm and close to the goalkeeper, it is very hard for the goalkeeper to stop it. Especially when the pitches are wet as well, it is even harder for them.’
 

The 2001/02 season, so rich in goals for Hasselbaink, could have yielded major silverware too with Chelsea reaching the FA Cup final where we faced Arsenal. However there was a race to be fit from a calf injury for our no.9 and as the game progressed there was the sad sight of him increasingly limping across the Cardiff turf until an inevitable substitution by Zola during the second half.

‘I should never have played,’ he admits. ‘That was my stubbornness. Ranieri asked me if I was fit enough to play and I said yes but I should not have. I could not run properly. But the FA Cup final, as a youngster you always want to play that, and that is where the emotions came in.

‘There was a blocked vein and I needed an operation straightaway afterwards. I could have lost my leg.’

What developed into a serious injury and the time it took to recover from the surgery undoubtedly took its toll on Hasselbaink’s third season, although he still scored 15 goals. It was however the one of his four seasons when he was not Chelsea topscorer but he regained that crown the next year with 17 goals, despite the recruitment of two big-money forwards from Serie A - Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu.

Although Jimmy may primarily be thought of as a striker from the era before Roman Abramovich bought the club, he was here for 2003/04 and indeed scored the winner in the first game under the new ownership, at Anfield having come on at half-time.
 

Despite the increased competition for places, he considers that year is up there with his first two at Chelsea as the best.

‘My last season was pretty good, because of all the trouble that came with it. I never really got a momentum, I really had to work hard at getting my time on the pitch, because they brought Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu in, and I had to really buckle down and work hard and wait my time.

‘Every time I got my time I had to make a difference and to be able to still come out as top scorer that year, and at the end when we had the important matches, he [Ranieri] came back to me and Eidur, it was something like a victory for me.’

Hasselbaink’s final flourish for Chelsea was an astonishing 15-minute hat-trick that turned one point into three against Wolves, having only come on with half-an-hour to play, followed in the next game by a winner at Tottenham, the team he scored against the most, including another famous hat-trick.

Often seemingly an angry figure on the pitch and a highly competitive one in training, Hasselbaink was a contrasting figure away from it. Warm, charming and humorous, his charisma as well as his goals won over the Chelsea fans from the start. And then there were the sometimes idiosyncratic goal celebrations!

He was very keen to stay for the full five years of his contract but it was not to be, and it is no surprise when he returned as a Charlton player in September 2006 and scored at Stamford Bridge, it was one of the all-time great non celebrations of a goal.

‘I think it was a pity [I couldn’t stay at Chelsea],’ he says, ‘but unfortunately Jose Mourinho didn’t even speak to me, didn’t even have the conversation. They thought that I was 32 and I was finished.

‘But at the end of the day, that next season they won the league and the League Cup so he got his squad right, because they won the league after 50 years. But I would have loved have been part of it.

‘I just thought that not celebrating the goal I scored against Chelsea was the right thing to do. It was mutual respect, being that I had played four years there and they had been absolutely magnificent to me, in good times and bad times.
 

‘I never had a bad word said to me, even when we had matches that we lost. On the street I have never had an angry fan coming up, I have only had love so for me it was a really easy decision.’

Chelsea enjoyed having Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as our goalscorer, and he enjoyed being our goalscorer too.

‘I loved it,’ he concludes. ‘I absolutely loved it!’
 

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