In modern football the role of a captain can be a somewhat superficial role, it implies a certain level of authority over a club and its fanbase that is unnatural to most clubs in the Premier League. However, Chelsea football club is a different type of club. Not to say they are bigger or smaller than any other club in England, just different. Lost yet? let me explain.
Chelsea’s last fifteen years as a club has offered unprecedented success to a fan base who have now become hungrier and hungrier for trophies and greater performances than ever (myself included). This hunger is shared by Roman Abramovich whose millions helped Chelsea undoubtedly become the mega-power in European football that it is today. Roman and the fans shared a passion for winning has meant Chelsea has as a club have drifted from the traditional path of an English football club, success from a managers point of view does not guarantee continued faith from Roman and the boardroom. On the face of things one might be forgiven for thinking this would lead to a tumultuous trajectory for Chelsea, however, the exact opposite happens to be true. Often criticised for this pragmatic approach to running a football club, Romans numerous sackings of managers has actually lead to Chelsea ensuring they remain relevant and always look to strengthen. Many many great managers have paid the price for poor results. Ranieri, Mourinho, Ancelotti and Villas Boas just to name a few.
So with this constant change around of managers, who ensures the club sustains its characteristics and values you might ask. This is actually where the position of captain becomes extremely important for Chelsea. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Peter Cech and Ashley Cole, all were natural leaders who rather than needing a manager to babysit them just needed someone to tactically fine tune them. Each of the men I named were players who constantly time and time again stood up to be counted when the going got tough. When Mourinho was sacked from Chelsea the first time around in 2007, the players were the ones who demanded more from their colleagues, they put in the tackles scored the goals and made the saves that would propel Chelsea to future successes. When Avram Grant was named head coach in 2007 the Chelsea players achieved astonishing success reaching a Champions League final. This fantastic feat was achieved in spite of Grant not because of him. Time and time again in the biggest games Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba would score goals that inspired the side. Petr Cech’s heroics in the 2012 final against Bayern Munich almost single-handedly kept us in the fight. Ashley Cole’s tenacity, pace and genius ensured that he is well respected across the world. John Terry player 491 Premier League games for the blues captaining the side to 5 Premier League Titles. Though not loved by all he is adored by the Chelsea faithful for his bravery, honesty and raw passion. Terry is the type of player who embodies a fan, every single Chelsea fan lived every minute of his success alongside John.
Time passes and with it so do legends; Terry, Cole, Lampard, Essien, Cech, Drogba, Makelele, Ivanovic, Ballack all these great player are no longer in the Chelsea side. Though despite these great losses the club has managed to continue its reletive success. Players like Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, David Luiz and to a certain extent people like Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois have managed to take on the mantle. Take a player like Diego Costa as an example, there is a man who truly wears his heart on his sleeve and in the 90 minutes of a football game he thinks of nothing else but how can he win the game, how can he score the goal. These players are rare in modern football and have to be respected as previously mentioned they are hard to come by. Costa was in some ways the perfect heir to Drogba’s throne, he was a different player technically and wasn’t nearly as strong in the air, but what Costa did have that resembled Didier Drogba was his passion and internal motor that spurred him on to continuously give everything for the club when he stepped out onto the pitch. Now Costa has left and Alvaro Morata has arrived it will take time for Morata to find his feet from a leadership point of view. People often talk about how team leaders must come from the defence but if Costa and Drogba taught us anything it is that leaders from all around the pitch.
Leaders also come in all shapes and sizes. Cesar Azpilicueta scored the third goal in a 4-2 victory for the blues. In doing so he reached 169 Chelsea Premier League appearances leapfrogging Michael Essien who had 168 and making himself Chelsea’s 13th most capped Premier League player in history, second out of currently active players behind Eden Hazard (178). Azpilicueta played every minute of the title charge last season and is as much a leader as any man who wears blue at Stamford Bridge, he is the right age and while not as outspoken as someone like David Luiz, he is certainly not a quiet man. In my honest opinion, I value Cahill as a player and as a cog in the Chelsea leadership wheel, though I believe Cesar Azpilicueta is destined to surpass the Englishman as Chelsea captain. Cahill has only been at the club 6 months longer than Azpilicueta and is actually (as you might have gathered from my previous statistics) behind Azpilicueta in terms of Chelsea appearances.
Chelsea seem to be attempting to rebuild the core group of leaders from their past and with certain players they have been incredibly successful. Azpilicueta resembles Ashley Cole to me, David Luiz resembles a Carvalho and N’Golo Kante a Makelele, though some replacements simply can’t be found overnight and I believe Gary Cahill despite his excellent Chelsea career will never be held in the same regard as John Terry, not to mention if anyone could ever fill the void left by Frank Lampard when he left the club.
The Chelsea player dictatorship has been a key part of the blues success, but with the vital players now retired and moved on Chelsea must also as a club look to move forward and continue to produce and import incredible leaders.