Each week, talkSPORT.com looks at transfers from years gone by; the deals that saw supporters express delight in whatever the equivalent of a NSFW meme was at the time. This week it’s two-time Champions League winner Marcel Desailly’s transfer to Chelsea.
In 1998, Chelsea could technically boast to have the world’s best defence.
Before the World Cup in France, the Blues, under manager Gianluca Vialli, signed Desailly from Milan in a £4.6million deal, partnered him with compatriot Frank Leboeuf and France won the whole thing with the duo at its heart. Despite the stopper’s red card in the final, Chelsea basically won the World Cup, didn’t they?
These were exciting times and Chelsea were making headlines with glamorous signings almost a decade before Roman Abramovich began pumping millions into the club.
For one of the most fashionable parts of the capital, there had been a distinctly average feel about Stamford Bridge.
That all changed with Ruud Gullit’s arrival in 1995. Granted, he was coming to the end of his career and had one knee, but he was still better than most in the Premier League.
It was the sprinkle of stardust the club needed and when Desailly, the man known as ‘Le Rock’, caught the Eurostar to London, Chelsea were buying someone at his peak.
Not that he expected to be moving across the Channel. “Chelsea? Which club? What are you saying? I’ve never heard about Chelsea,” he said recalling the moment the Blues hierarchy made their approach in an interview with thesefootballtimes.co.
But with Milan having a terrible season – their worst for 10 years – he was persuaded to visit the club whose facilities were not a patch on what he was used to in Italy. They must have said the right things, though, because Chelsea got their man.
And the big man was in for a shock on the pitch as well as off it.
“I suffered. My ego got smashed. I really suffered, honestly. Playing against Dion Dublin, Duncan Ferguson – big guys. The flick, the fighting spirit. Playing against Coventry, Sunderland – the long ball. I was unable to intimidate them.
“In France and Italy I was a strong guy – I would look the strikers in the eye and show ‘there is nothing for you today’ – and the player would look down and accept that I had won.
“But in England, no. The guy is ready for a fight. The striker will tackle you! I was depressed for four months.
“The camp we were training in was awful. The stadium only held 32,000 at the time, before it was later increased to 42,000. This was balanced by the fact that it was a new challenge for me. I was 30-years-old, most of career was behind me, but the sense of a new adventure gave me a new lease of life.”
He stuck with it and the Stamford Bridge faithful were glad, as was academy graduate John Terry who was then making his breakthrough. Desailly made a lasting impression.
“At the time when he joined the club a lot of the first team players didn’t speak to the youth team lads like me because they considered themselves too important,” Terry explained in his book, My Winning Season. “That was the way it was, but Marcel wasn’t like that.”
A young Terry learned loads from watching someone who in his words was “a real class act”. After all, Desailly had won the lot during his impressive career.
However, he only won one trophy in England, the FA Cup in 2000, but picked up the European Championship with France a few weeks later to add to his vast collection of other medals.
And let’s face it, anyone who scores a last winner against Spurs at White Hart Lane is okay in fans’ eyes.
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