With all the hubub of expectation surrounding prospective transfers at this time of the year there is also the feeling that certain positions in the squad depth chart need upgrading for the club to be competitive, perhaps at the expense of players who may have given their all for the club but are just not quite up to the level of the current squad.
I think it is a good time to look back at some of the players that have graced the Chelsea FC dressing room and perhaps remind ourselves that targets like Edinson Cavani at his peak have only very recently been realistically within our grasp. It is not so long ago that spending £10 Million on Chris Sutton seemed like an absolute disaster, but subsequent higher profile blunders in the transfer market put deals like this one in the shade. Today £10million seems like small change to this club but back in the early 80's the side including the mercurial talents of Kerry Dixon, David Speedie, Nigel Spackman, Eddie Niedzwieki and Pat Nevin was constructed by John Neal for 1/20th of that (the whole team, £500,000). Of course that is symptomatic of the influx of money into the game and the birth of the Premier League, but in all the excitement of new faces, it should not be underestimated what people gave for this club when Chelsea FC was not the glamourous destination it now is.
With that in mind, I thought about constructing a Chelsea Cult XI. This is not to say that these will be Chelsea's best ever players in each position, the criteria are not limited solely to ability. Other characteristics such as loyalty, individuality, passion and even eccentricity come into play and are channeled through a complicated algorithm in the brain to arrive at one simple point: the player you like the most.
So, if I can get this poll thingy to work the format will be this: I'll run through a few front runners for each position and say who I think should get the spot and then you vote at the end and tell me I'm an idiot etc in the comments section. Depending on the response I can do this for the whole team over the course of the next 76 years...
But we start with Goalkeeper:
This is by no means as easy a pick as you might expect. The Blues have had a few notable individuals between the sticks in the club's 108 years in existence. The first of these was William "Fatty" Foulke who despite playing the vast majority of his career at Sheffield United was integral to the existence of Chelsea FC. It was ‘Our Little Willie's decision to bring his ample 24 stone frame (yep, that's right, 24 stone - that's not a typo) to SW6 that went a long way to convincing the FA that here was a serious outfit, fit for the league. Here's a link to a photo (which kind of puts ‘fat' Frank in perspective) and a funny story about him chasing a referee around the dressing room in the buff:
He was also quite the cricketer I believe.
Then there's Peter Bonetti. ‘The Cat'. Pretty small for a goalkeeper at 5ft 11, he made up for it with lightning reflexes and unnatural agility (hence ‘The Cat' thing). Bonetti got a trial at the club after his mum wrote a letter to then manager Ted Drake stating her son ‘might make you a useful goalkeeper'. I remember my mum wrote a similar letter about 15 years ago, I am still hopeful of a response. With 729 first team appearances to his name (second only to Ron Harris in the all time list), Bonetti is a club legend in a very real sense and many still think he is the best goalkeeper ever to play for Chelsea. In his international career, he was unfortunate to coincide with a golden era for English goalkeepers, which included Gordon Banks, who many believe to be one of the finest goalkeepers in the history of the game. As such he was to win only 7 caps for his country, but this belies his standing as one of Chelsea and the English top flight's finest ever goalkeepers.
Perhaps controversially, I found it hard to look past Petr Cech and not just because he's so massive (6ft 5 to be exact - that's basically 2 metres. He's 2 metres tall). Arguably one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the game has played almost his entire senior career at Chelsea and his achievements are impossible to overlook. In his first season at the club, Cech went a premier League record 1025 minutes without conceding a goal (admittedly behind comfortably the best defence in the league and a team set up not to concede) on his way to winning his first of 3 premier league titles with the club, as well as four FA cups etc etc but perhaps his defining moment came in the final of last year's Champions League where the Chelsea tactic of allowing Bayern Munich to keep the ball for the full 90 minutes save for a short break to allow superhuman alien cosmobot, Didier Drogba to score at the other end resulted in extra time. Within minutes of the restart the same Didier Drogba had seemingly undone all his good work by clumsily clattering into the back of Frank Ribery just inside the area. Up step Arjen Robben to take what would surely be the deciding penalty:
‘Robben always shoots different ways, there's no pattern in his penalties. So I didn't know what to do with him. Half he shoots to the right, half to the left. No pattern whatsoever. He even runs up the same way to the ball.
But when you're tired, when you've played for 95 minutes, players choose power rather than technique, rather than placing it. I thought he'd smash it somewhere near the corner and hope it would go through. He's left-footed. I'm left-footed, and I thought if it was me I'd shoot across, left to right. Which is why I went to my left.'
That he did.
Petr Cech penalty save vs Bayern Munchen against Robben (via Tonde Nyamutowa)
This was perhaps the game's defining moment. Many things can happen in a match, but momentum is important and occurrences like this can get in the minds of players on both teams. Somehow you knew from this moment that through everything, the trophy was coming to Stamford Bridge. The game went to penalties and even when Juan Mata missed, somehow you still knew we would still win it. You may remember Cech saved again from Olic and Schweinsteiger forgot he was German for one vital moment and fluffed his lines too. Up step Drogba (him again) and the rest, as they say, is history. Yup, you probably remember.
The head-guard, whilst a biproduct of a disgusting incident involving a passable Muay Thai knee drop from Stephen "never been a better use of the c-word" Hunt (combined, interestingly, with the fact that he is a triplet meaning his skull is weaker - according to ESPN), exists in the Zeitgeist as Cech's signature appearance and serves to enhance his Cult status. He is also fluent in at least 4 languages, that's 3 more than most of the Chelsea dressing room and 4 more than Stephen Hunt.
Being from the Czech Republic he is unlikely to win honours at international level*, meaning he might not be held in the same regard in future as the likes of Peter Schmeichel or Gordon Banks, but then Lev Yashin never won a major trophy at international level either and he is perhaps top of many peoples list when it comes to naming the greatest goalkeepers in history. One thing is certain, Cech's matchwinning** performance in the final of the Champions League (and that headguard) is etched in Chelsea folklore forever.
(*This applies to pretty much anyone who isn't Spanish at this point.)
(**one of several on the night.)
Verdict: Petr Cech (2004-Present)