History

Chelsea’s Olympic medallists

With the Olympic football competition kicking off in Japan, we take a look at the Chelsea players – past and present – who have won medals with their countries on the Olympic stage.

The connection between Chelsea players and the Olympics can be traced to the early days of the club in 1909 when amateur legend Vivian Woodword joined the Pensioners a year after captaining Great Britain to a 2-0 victory over Denmark in the gold medal match in London.

The prolific centre forward skippered his country again in Stockholm in 1912 when they retained their title with a 4-2 win over a Denmark side captained by Woodword’s future Chelsea team-mate Nils Middelboe.

However, with the gentlemen players gradually fading from the top tier of English football and the Olympic movement maintaining a strict adherence to an amateur ethos, it would be several decades before another Olympic medallist played for the Blues.

The men’s Olympic football competition evolved into an under-23 tournament for the Barcelona Games in 1992 when the host nation delighted local fans by winning the gold medal for the first time.

Playing alongside Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique in that talented side was Barcelona native Albert Ferrer, who was the first-choice right-back as Spain beat Poland 3-2 at the Camp Nou thanks to a last-minute winner by Kiko.

Ferrer enjoyed much success with Barca before he became the first Spaniard to play for Chelsea in 1998 and teamed up with another Olympic gold medallist, Celestine Babayaro, in the side which beat Real Madrid to win the Super Cup.

At 17, Babayaro had been Nigeria’s left-back in their triumph in Atlanta in 1996, when he helped the Super Eagles come from 3-1 down to beat Brazil 4-3 in the semi-finals before scoring in the gold medal match as his team twice recovered from deficits to win 3-2 against an Argentina side featuring his future Blues team-mate Hernan Crespo.

Babayaro captained Nigeria at the 2000 Olympics but they bowed out in the quarter-finals to Chile, who were then beaten in the last four after a 2-1 loss to Cameroon, who were captained by another future Chelsea player, Geremi.

The Iindomitable Lions faced Spain in the gold medal game in Sydney and came from two goals to send the game to a penalty shoot-out where they prevailed 5-3 as Geremi and Samuel Eto’o both converted their spot kicks.

Willy Caballero was a gold medallist as Argentina’s reserve goalkeeper at the 2004 Games in Athens while Ramires, Thiago Silva and Pato won bronze medals when Brazil finished third in Beijing in 2008.

Thiago Silva made his second Olympic appearance as an over-age player in London in 2012 as he captained a team which featured Chelsea-bound playmaker Oscar. The 20-year-old was one of the tournament’s brightest stars, setting up several goals for Brazil in their run to the final but a gold medal would again elude the South American side as they were beaten 2-1 at Wembley by Mexico.

While Oscar was just about to start his Stamford Bridge career in 2012, John Mikel Obi’s time with the Blues was nearly up when he captained Nigeria in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The Super Eagles were beaten in the semi-finals by Germany but secured a podium finish after a 3-2 victory over Honduras in the bronze medal match.

While there are age restrictions in the men’s competition, the Olympic women’s football tournament features no such limits and a number of Chelsea Women stars have turned up to represent their countries in recent years.

The first Olympic medallist to play for the Blues was Yuki Ogimi who joined the club in 2013, a year after she played for Japan at the London Games. The striker scored in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final but had to settle for silver after the Nadeshiko were edged 2-1 by the United States in the gold medal match.

In Rio in 2016, Melanie Leupolz was a gold medallist for Germany after they beat Sweden, which featured goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and future Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson. Jessie Fleming, then 18, also claimed a medal after Canada beat hosts Brazil 2-1 in the bronze medal game.

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