Fifty years it may have been, but it was worth the wait. Chelsea were champions of England again. To mark the start of the month in which we won our first Premier League title 15 years ago, we are looking back at the 2004/05 campaign in some detail, beginning with a summer of considerable change...
'I cannot promise to you, the supporters, the championship but I understand what is expected. We are a strong group, ready to fight together for our dreams.'Jose Mourinho
Despite Bjarne Goldbaek scoring one of the goals of the season, Chelsea could only manage a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Unless Manchester United and Arsenal, coupled with a goal-difference swing in double figures, lost both of their final two matches of the season, the Blues' title hopes had evaporated.
That was May 1999. A month earlier, fans had dared to dream of a first title triumph since 1955, when Roy Bentley led the Blues to the only previous championship in our history. Those dreams quickly faded away, helped in no small part by a disastrous home draw against Leicester City. However, there was the consolation prize of a spot in the following season's Champions League – our first-ever appearance in Europe's premier club competition.
Even so, for the majority of Blues fans who hadn't been around for the 1955 celebrations, it appeared our big chance of seeing Chelsea win the league had gone. At least we had the cup competitions to quench our thirst for silverware...
Football is a funny old game, though, and it didn't take long for that hope to manifest itself once again, arriving in the form of Roman Abramovich as the club's owner in 2003. The landscape at Stamford Bridge, and indeed the Premier League, would soon change beyond all recognition.
In that first season the Blues brought in some of world football's biggest names, only to fall short in the Premier League at the hands of Arsenal's ‘Invincibles’ and contrive to throw away a position of strength in a Champions League semi-final against Monaco, denying us a final meeting with a Porto side managed by Jose Mourinho. A matter of weeks later, the Portuguese tactician was in the Stamford Bridge hotseat and another summer of upheaval was about to begin.
This time, however, there was one huge difference. While the volume of players heading through the exit door was just about as high as in any previous close season in the club's history, this wasn't simply a trimming of squad members. Among those exiting were club captain Marcel Desailly and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a pair of Blues legends and two huge presences in the dressing room.
There were plenty of new faces introduced, too, although the policy of buying renowned stars was jettisoned. Instead, players on the cusp of greatness were recruited to the squad: Petr Cech (Rennes), Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira (both Porto), Tiago (Benfica), Arjen Robben, Mateja Kezman (both PSV Eindhoven) and Didier Drogba (Marseille), while Alexei Smertin returned from a loan spell with Portsmouth.
It cost the club the highest British transfer fee spent on a striker to recruit Drogba, who remained relatively unknown on these shores despite tearing apart the defences of Liverpool and Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup as Marseille reached the final. One former Blues hero, however, was certain Chelsea had a superstar on our hands.
'When I first saw him playing for Guingamp I thought I was watching Thierry Henry out on the pitch,' Frank Leboeuf told The Sun, likening Drogba to the reigning PFA and Football Writers' Player of the Year.
'I thought: 'He runs like Thierry, he has the pace of Thierry and he plays with a smile like Thierry’. There will be a big competition between him and Henry to be the Premiership top-scorer and biggest entertainer.'
Transfer business aside, one of the new manager's first big decisions was to name a new captain in place of the departing Desailly, who himself had followed in the huge – metaphorically speaking, if not physically – footsteps of Dennis Wise.
It quickly became apparent the new skipper would be a London boy once again; the big question was whether Mourinho would hand the armband to Academy graduate John Terry, who had been the stand-in skipper during Desailly's tenure, or Frank Lampard. He knew both men had the complete respect and support of the entire dressing room, but only one could take the armband. In the end it was the centre-half who got the nod, with Lamps named the official vice-captain.
‘I learned so much from Marcel,’ wrote JT in his first set of programme notes as captain. ‘Before that, I had Wisey teaching me not just about stuff on the pitch, but also how to lead in the dressing room. All this experience soon adds up, creating the role of being captain. I'm so proud – it just fills me with joy.’
The decision proved popular with the supporters, as did the promotion of Steve Clarke from the youth set-up to assistant first team coach because, as Mourinho put it, ‘he is the man who knows every player in English football... someone I enjoy to speak with because he always has an opinion’. An association with the club which began in 1987 took in a spell in Division Two followed by the highs of winning trophies at home and abroad in the twilight of his career; now he would be helping to write a new chapter in Chelsea's history.
‘The club is 100 years old at the end of the season, and our only league title win came when we were 50 years old,’ wrote Terry in the matchday programme. ‘We want to the be the league champions again in this special year. To do that, we'll have to overcome Arsenal, who have just shown themselves to be the best English team ever with their undefeated run. But, having beaten them in the Champions League last season, we believe we can show we are better than them in the league.’
First up: a home game against Manchester United and the opportunity to set the tone for the season. After all of the talking, it was time to get down to business...
- By Richard Godden - Chelsea matchday programme editor
You can watch a full recap of the 2004/05 season in Premier League Years on the 5th Stand app.