When I think of the most legendary Chelsea F.C. trophy winning squads that I have had the honour of watching in my time as a football enthusiast, one distinct factor seems to remain constant in many regards, the presence of a world-class French central defender who stands head and shoulders above his peers.
It can all be traced back to 1996, when an experienced 28 year old defensive mastermind named Frank Leboeuf set foot in London and wasted no time acclimatising to life in England, while bringing his continental style of defending to a country that was largely unfamiliar with the concept of having ball-playing central defenders in their league, orchestrating attacking moves from the back with pinpoint cross-field passes or destabilizing opposition defensive lines with a marauding run through the heart of midfield. Leboeuf arrived at Chelsea as an experienced French international that had proven his mettle at domestic level in France with Laval and later at Strasbourg, his move was a relatively low-profile one as he came in for £2.5m, in an eventful period where the club was acquiring a distinct taste for signing talented foreign footballers with a unique level of ambition.
The next great French defender to don the famous Blue jersey and walk onto the legendary Stamford Bridge turf was a World Cup winning defensive phenomenon that joined The Blues as an experienced 30 year old who had an impressive CV and the talent to back it up. Signed from A.C. Milan for £2.5m, Marcel Desailly went on to establish himself as one of the greatest central defenders of his generation during his 7 year stay at the London-based club; forming a formidable partnership with fellow Les Bleus international, Frank Leboeuf, Marcel skippered the club with great distinction and is still looked upon as one of the greatest defenders to ever play in England. The quintessential modern age defensive lynchpin, Marcel Desailly will forever be remembered as a footballer that made the art of defending look like a craft that only the greats could ever dream of mastering. Strong on the ground and in the air, Marcel was the type of defender that opposition fans, forwards and managers alike would love to hate; a man that would lead by example and show character through his performances, Desailly should go down as a model for young defenders to follow today as his benchmark is still unreachable for some current and former professionals.
As I test your football knowledge with a little quiz… Who is the only French central defender to play for Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur? The answer to that barroom football trivia question is William Gallas, the man who begun his Tour-De –London with his arrival at Chelsea as a 24 year old utility defender who had the potential to develop into a world-class defensive machine; blessed with the pace & acceleration of an elite level forward or winger, Gallas was a INF Clairefontaine graduate that had potential etched all over him since he was a youngster working his way up the ranks. Coming into the side as a £6.2m acquisition from Marseille in 2001, the then former France u/20 & u/21 international made a seamless transition into life in London and partnered his countryman and skipper Marcel Desailly in the heart of defence and looked like a natural replacement for the legendary Frank Leboeuf, who had departed for the same club Gallas joined from, Marseille. William Gallas went onto form an impressive partnership with legendary defensive partner and future skipper, John Terry, and the solid defensive duo once needed extra pockets to stash the multitudes of opposition forwards in, after going on a run of 16 consecutive games without conceding a goal. The great ability displayed by Gallas in the Blue of Chelsea did not go unnoticed as he earned himself a call-up to the French national team in 2002 and went onto become somewhat of a mainstay in the defence for Les Bleus during his international career.
Many younger Chelsea fans were understandably unsettled when their club signed a promising and versatile French youth international defender from Saint-Étienne in January of 2014, the last talented Frenchman to become a defensive lynchpin for their club had stabbed them in the heart twice by joining two of their arch-rivals, and their pain was altogether fathomable and completely warranted. The potential of Kurt Happy Zouma had been known to some keen talent scouts across the football fraternity for a little while, having made his Saint- Étienne debut at the tender age of 17, the sturdily built Lyon-born defender looked at home playing at the elite level, and even managed to scare some men who were almost twice his age during some of his impressive 70 odd games in French football. By the time the powerful and agile defensive legend in the making was legal to drink a pint in a bar, the wunderkind was a Coupe de la Ligue winner with his first professional football club and a French u/16, u/17 & u/19 international with endless admirers across the major leagues in the football realm.
One must go on record to commend Chelsea Football Club for the manner in which they have handled the development of such a magnificent talent thus far, the decision to buy the player and loan him back to his former club played a major role in his seamless transition into life at one of the most prestigious football clubs on the planet. The player acclimatised extremely well to life in London during his debut season and he seemed like he truly was at home in one of the most defensively demanding football clubs one will ever encounter, apart from a Tony Pulis led team of course. The future looks bright for a talent that seems primed to take his rightful place at the heart of the Chelsea defence and become the next in a long line of great French central defenders that helped form the backbone of many a legendary Chelsea F.C. silverware winning side.
Chelsea Career (1996 – 2001)
Appearances & Goals: 204 Games; 24 Goals
Chelsea Honours: FA Cup (1997; 2000), Football League Trophy (1998), FA Charity Shield (2000), UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (1998) & UEFA Super Cup (1998)
Caps & Goals: 50 Caps; 4 Goals
International Honours: FIFA World Cup (1998), UEFA European Championship (2000) & FIFA Confederations Cup (2001)
Chelsea Career (1998 – 2004)
Appearances & Goals: 222 Games; 7 Goals
Chelsea Honours: FA Cup (2000), FA Charity Shield (2000) & UEFA Super Cup (1998)
Caps & Goals: 116 Caps; 3 Goals
International Honours: FIFA World Cup (1998), UEFA European Championship (2000) & FIFA Confederations Cup (2001 & 2003)
Chelsea Career (2001 – 2006)
Appearances & Goals: 225 Games; 14 Goals
Chelsea Honours: Premier League (2004-2005; 2005-2006), League Cup (2004-2005) & FA Community Shield (2005)
Caps & Goals: 84 Caps; 5 Goals
International Honours: FIFA Confederations Cup (2003) & FIFA World Cup Runner-Up (2006)
Chelsea Career (2014 – )
Appearances & Goals: 29 Games; 2 Goals
Chelsea Honours: Premier League (2014-2015) & Football League Cup (2014-2015)
Caps & Goals: 1 Cap
International Honours: N/A (Former France u/21 Captain)