20 of the Best Players to Play for Chelsea

best former chelsea players

Located in the affluent South West of London, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge has hosted some of the richest talents of the football world. The Blues simply draw headlines with a mixture of star quality and homegrown professionals, leading to an ever-expanding trophy cabinet over the club’s 116-year history.

A select number of Chelsea players have delivered this success with the greatest effect, iconizing some memorable names in English football’s record books and forging a history like no other in London. 

Frank Lampard (Appearances: 648, Goals: 211)

Of Chelsea’s 20 major honours in the 21st century, midfield maestro Frank Lampard collected 13 winner’s medals. The ultimate professional with years of outstanding service to club and country, Lampard is not only one of the greatest Chelsea footballers of all time, but he is also the most important. While backed by the billions of Roman Abramovich, no player contributed to the modern success in West London quite like ‘Super Frank’, having scored countless crucial goals for the Blues which led him to overtake Bobby Tambling as the club’s all-time top goalscorer in 2013.

Didier Drogba (Appearances: 381, Goals: 164)

Heroic – it’s the only way to describe the adored Ivorian striker Didier Drogba. Signed by the Blues for a club record sum in 2004, Drogba fired Chelsea to domestic dominance under Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti before dramatically sending a first Champions League trophy back to West London with an equalizer and winning penalty in the 2012 final. The forward’s epic Chelsea story didn’t end there, as Drogba returned to The Bridge in 2014 for a final chapter to the fairy tale in order to cement his place as the club’s fourth highest all-time goalscorer and help the side to a fifth Premier League.

Peter Osgood (Appearances: 380, Goals: 150)

Peter Osgood was arguably the first proper love of the Chelsea fanbase. Ranking fifth in the Blues’ goalscoring charts and 15th for appearances, the skilled number nine was much more than a poacher in front of goal. Osgood added a touch of wizardry to the Chelsea sides of the 1960s and 1970s, earning the title “the Wizard of Os” with his magic in the final third. Although later winning a second FA Cup with Southampton, Osgood is best remembered as the star of Chelsea’s famous 1970 cup-winning team which also lifted the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup in the club’s first true golden period.

John Terry (Appearances: 717, Goals: 67)

The undisputed face of Chelsea Football Club in the modern era, John Terry is the most successful Blues skipper to wear the armband. Conventional defending was Terry’s area of expertise, a field he excelled in with dignity and force. After graduating from Chelsea’s notoriously difficult academy, the central defender took to life in the Premier League with ease as he picked up Chelsea’s Player of the Year award in his first full season as a starting XI regular. While never far from controversy, Terry met every dip in form with a remarkable comeback which saw him feature in more than 45 games per season for much of his career.

Bobby Tambling (Appearances: 370, Goals: 202)

With a formidable strike rate of 202 in 370 games, Bobby Tambling eclipsed several Blues legends of the 20th century to end his career as Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer, an achievement which stood until 2013. No player has netted more league goals for Chelsea than Tambling. The English striker’s sole honour with the Blues was the 1965 League Cup, but in truth Tambling had a far greater impact on the club. Signing his first Chelsea deal at the age of 15, Tambling would captain Chelsea as the side’s talisman under managers such as Ted Drake and Tommy Docherty.

Eden Hazard (Appearances: 352, Goals: 110)

Following a pricey transfer from Lille, Eden Hazard rocked up in West London with big expectations – which he certainly fulfilled. The Belgian winger scored goals, drifted past defences and entertained his Stamford Bridge audience in a way which few Blues players have done before. In spite of the club’s sudden and repeated glory, Hazard’s playing style was unique. It was a show, and Hazard was the jubilant ringmaster. Barring an unseemly barren 2015-16 campaign, Hazard netted 13, 17, 19, 17, 17 and lastly 21 goals in his seasons with the Blues which included several domestic and continental triumphs.

Steve Clarke (Appearances: 421, Goals: 7)

A fine student of the game as a manager, Ayrshire-born defender Steve Clarke was the backbone to Chelsea’s cup successes of the 1990s. It is little wonder Clarke has been included in a list of Chelsea’s best starting XI ever, having turned out 421 times for the Blues and ranking ninth in the club’s all-time appearance records.

At a club blessed with great Scottish talent, Clarke’s calm manner of defending is as renowned as the stylish antics of fellow Scotsmen Pat Nevin and Charlie Cooke in West London. Forming great relationships with Chelsea stars such as Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in the space of a year during the latter stage of his Chelsea days.

Petr Čech (Appearances: 494, Goals: 0)

Once awarded man of the match on his ice hockey debut as goaltender, Petr Čech is better known between the sticks at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea’s most successful goalkeeper of all time. The 124-cap Czech Republic international holds almost every conceivable goalkeeping record in the Premier League, having earned the number one jersey with sensational shot-stopping ability throughout the modern rise of Chelsea Football Club. With Premier League medals aplenty and an arguably match-winning Champions League Final performance, Čech was truly world class in the nets.

Dennis Wise (Appearances: 445, Goals: 74)

Deployed as an all-action central midfielder, Dennis Wise remains a popular figure amongst the Chelsea support thanks to his affection for the club. The Englishman ruled the 1990s in West London, taking the game to the opposition with desire and a knack for goals. As one of the longest serving players in Chelsea history with over 400 appearances, Wise captained the side for much of his Blues career, often bouncing back from disciplinary problems with bouts of goals and crowd-pleasing displays. Although a title challenge escaped him, Chelsea won a number of cups at home and abroad with Dennis Wise’s cheeky grin at the forefront of their success.

Ron Harris (Appearances: 795, Goals: 14)

The ultimate ‘Top Trumps’ card with an unbeatable appearance record, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris’ Chelsea legacy is unlikely to be matched. An ever-present for two decades in the Chelsea team, the defensive dynamo was one of English football’s most consistent and reliable footballers with almost 900 appearances for Chelsea and Brentford. Harris, an FA Youth Cup-winning academy graduate, experienced further cup glory with the Blues whilst flitting between the top two tiers of English football as ‘Chopper’, Bonetti and co. created unmistakable Chelsea memories in the 1960s and 1970s.

Gianfranco Zola (Appearances: 311, Goals: 80)

For fans of James Richardson’s Football Italia, the artistry of Gianfranco Zola would come as no surprise upon his move to Stamford Bridge in 1996. The forward was unstoppable with Parma in the mid-1990s and carried his superb goalscoring form onto his Chelsea days, where the legend of Zola was made.

The Italian thrived on dead ball situations, intricate dribbles into the opposition box and long-range blasts which ensured his cult hero status in the Premier League. Zola was inducted into English football’s Hall of Fame in 2006, having starred in FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup-winning campaigns in an exciting era for Chelsea.

Claude Makélélé (Appearances: 217, Goals: 2)

Despite spending only five seasons with Chelsea, Claude Makélélé’s 217 appearances in blue were some of the best in the Premier League era. Scoring just twice from the defensive midfield position, the former Marseille and Real Madrid man operated the midfield in his own way, so much so that commentators now talk of the ‘Makélélé Role’ in a formation. Allowing his gifted teammates to score the goals further up the pitch, the Kinshasa-born Frenchman swept up the play and dominated matches in front of the defence. Amongst an enviable list of club honours, Makélélé was integral to Jose Mourinho’s back-to-back Premier League titles with Chelsea.

Peter Bonetti (Appearances: 729, Goals: 0)

Peter Bonetti, otherwise known as ‘The Cat’, featured in goal 729 times for Chelsea between 1959 and 1979. The Blues’ number one for almost 15 seasons, Bonetti was much more than a reliable choice as shot-stopper. His springing saves and nimbleness between the posts was an iconic form of goalkeeping, one which earned him several England call-ups. In spite of being far from the European super club of today, Bonetti kept more than 200 clean sheets and retains one of the best saving records of all time with Chelsea.

Marcel Desailly (Appearances: 222, Goals: 7)

In any conversation about the greatest defenders to play the game, Marcel Desailly must be mentioned. Even prior to the Abramovich era, Chelsea had signed a world-beater in French World Cup-winner Desailly, transferring from Milan for £4.6m in 1998. Although moving into the latter stages of his distinguished career, Desailly had become a world champion over the summer and remained a poised, intelligent central defender with Chelsea. Alongside countryman Frank Leboeuf, ‘The Rock’ at the back led the Blues to FA Cup glory in 2000.

Kerry Dixon (Appearances: 420, Goals: 193)

The light in a dark period for Chelsea, deadly marksman Kerry Dixon scored more goals for the Blues than any player barring the 200+ totals of Lampard and Tambling. With the club meandering between the top two divisions, Dixon proved adept at both levels but remained loyal to an inconsistent Chelsea for almost a decade. Dixon’s career peaked in SW6, earning eight England caps and a number of personal accolades as he topped Chelsea scoring charts for the 1980s.

Ashley Cole (Appearances: 338, Goals: 7)

Another defensive mainstay of the trophy-laden 21st century Chelsea teams, star left-back Ashley Cole picked up nine trophies over eight seasons with Chelsea. Whilst a threat going forward, Cole was a solid defender and was consequentially a favourite of gaffer Jose Mourinho. His composure and agility proved an excellent foil for several of Chelsea’s tricky left wingers, often bailing out his teammates with a penchant for goal line clearances.

The ex-Arsenal man won 107 England caps – a record for a fullback – and is one of few Blues players to lift both the Champions League and Europa League.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Appearances: 177, Goals: 87)

Flying Dutch centre forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink arrived in West London just a couple of years after stunning the Premier League with his prolific form at Leeds United. It was a rapid rise for the Suriname-born striker, who returned to English football with the Blues following an odd season in Spain at Atlético Madrid. While Atléti had been relegated, Hasselbaink ended the 1999-2000 season as one of Europe’s top scorers with 33 in all competitions. It was at The Bridge that the Netherlands international’s reputation skyrocketed, delighting fans with first-class attacking play. In just four campaigns with Chelsea, Hasselbaink notched 87 goals.

Michael Essien (Appearances: 256, Goals: 25)

Michael Essien – one of the greatest African footballers of his generation – was the anchor man to Chelsea’s midfield which conquered English and European football between 2005 and 2014. The Ghanaian kept things ticking in the middle of the pitch with ease, whilst demonstrating considerable technique and vision during attacking moves.

A three-time Ballon d’Or nominee, Essien spent the best years of his career with Chelsea, partnering various talented midfielders on the way to winning two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup and the long-awaited Champions League success of 2012.

Roberto Di Matteo (Appearances: 175, Goals: 26)

The football career of Roberto Di Matteo, both as a player and in management, has largely been founded upon being in the right place at the right time. And it’s certainly no mean feat. Just as he was the visionary gaffer behind Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League victory, he also popped up throughout his playing days in a blue shirt to make it count at the vital moment for Chelsea. The Italian midfield general scored two key goals in FA Cup finals, including after just 42 seconds in 1997, as well as a consolidating strike in the Blues’ League Cup Final triumph of 1998.

Eiður Guðjohnsen (Appearances: 263, Goals: 78)

Eiður Guðjohnsen’s latter football career may be resemblant of a lost journeyman striker, counting a total of 16 different clubs throughout his playing days, but his journey to international stardom via Stamford Bridge was nothing short of sensational. 

The Icelandic hero was a hit with Bolton Wanderers at the turn of the century, so much so that Chelsea parted with £4.5m for his services – a worthy purchase with 13 goals in his debut campaign despite playing second fiddle to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. As Guðjohnsen’s talents drew more appreciation, he was eventually partnered with Hasselbaink up front to devasting effect for opposition Premier League defences, lifting two consecutive league titles as well as starring on numerous famous European nights in SW6.