Ahead of today's 1,000th game of Roman Abramovich's ownership, we look back at the starting line-up for the first, which was a Champions League qualifier against Zilina, and find out what they are all up to nowadays...
Seventeen years ago, Chelsea supporters were embarking on a trip into the unknown – but one which would quickly turn into the trip of a lifetime.
In the summer of 2003, Mr. Abramovich became our owner and embarked upon a spending spree that would elevate us to title contenders and worthy of dining at Europe’s top table.
After a month or so of relentless transfer rumours, the time for talking was done and it was time for action – starting with the first leg of a Champions League qualifying tie against Zilina.
A mixture of old favourites and new signings took to the field in Slovakia, helping us to get off to a winning start with a 2-0 victory, and we list here each of the 11 starters that night to bring you up to date with that they are up to now.
The Italian goalkeeper was a huge favourite with Blues fans, having won the club’s Player of the Year award in 2002 and followed it up a year later with the Premier League’s Golden Gloves award as the best keeper in the top flight. He spent three years assisting Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri, and he is currently one of our loan player technical coaches, a role he combines with that of club ambassador.
Johnson became the first signing of the Abramovich era when he joined us as an 18-year-old from West Ham. The right-back won several honours during his time as a Blue and now works as a pundit, including for Soccer Saturday, after hanging up his boots in 2019. That year he appeared for England at the Soccer Aid match held at Stamford Bridge.
At this stage he only had the ‘Leader’ and ‘Legend’ parts of the three-pronged nickname he’d become known for, adding the captaincy a year later and going on to skipper us during the best period of our history. Since retiring he has worked as Aston Villa’s assistant manager.
Our then club captain was beginning the last of his six seasons as a Blue, having joined us from AC Milan as a World Cup winner. The coaching bug never bit such a laid-back character as Desailly, who seems to fill most of his time with charitable and ambassadorial work. He’s a very popular choice at the various UEFA and FIFA draws, which tells you everything about his status in the game.
The second young English full-back to join us that summer, Bridge was signed from Southampton a few months after helping them to reach an FA Cup final. He spent six years in west London before leaving for Manchester City. He’s had a varied post-football career, marrying Frankie from the Saturdays, appearing on I’m a Celebrity a few years ago and, most recently, winning a poker tournament.
Juan Sebastian Veron
Plenty was expected of an Argentinian playmaker who had won league titles in Italy and England prior to joining the Blues from Manchester United. Alas, it never really worked out for Veron at the Bridge and he is now back in his homeland as chairman of Estudiantes, the club with whom he started and finished his playing career.
At the time, our No.8 was still to earn the ‘Super’ prefix in his nickname and, believe it or not, some were questioning his place among the superstar signings. Frank, of course, went on to outdo the lot of them during a record-setting career – and he’s enjoyed a promising first 18 months in the dugout here, too.
A Champions League winner from Real Madrid who joined us that summer via a spell with Middlesbrough – a path trodden by few, if any, before or since. Now a FIFA Legend, although sadly this doesn’t mean he’s entered the world of e-sports and specialised in the EA Sports series. Instead, he works for world football’s governing body, as ‘a global representative of FIFA’s efforts to develop football’, among other things.
The Blues paid Blackburn Rovers a club-record fee to sign the winger, and it proved to be money well spent as he was a key man the following season to help us lift the first of back-to-back Premier League titles. Duff now works on the coaching staff for the Republic of Ireland, bringing with him the experience of his 100-cap international career.
Iceland’s most famous footballer was a big hit in his six years with the Blues, as he earned the moniker ‘the blond Maradona’ from manager Jose Mourinho. Like Duff, he’s now bringing his vast expertise to the table for his country’s national team, combining his role as assistant coach of Iceland Under-21s with the job of FH manager in his homeland.
With Hernan Crespo and Adrian Mutu yet to bolster our striking ranks, the position alongside Gudjohnsen surprisingly went to Forssell ahead of Carlton Cole and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The Finn ended up spending the campaign on loan to Birmingham City, where he finished as the Premier League’s fifth-highest goalscorer. He now works with the Under-17s at HJK Helsinki.
Our manager against Zilina was Claudio Ranieri, who has gone on to take 12 different jobs since leaving us that summer. He famously led Leicester City to the Premier League title in 2016 against all the odds and is now in charge of Serie A side Sampdoria.