A flashback to the days of Mark Bosnich at Chelsea

Marianna Massey

Remember when Chelsea had an Aussie goalkeeper called Mark?

Chelsea's capture of Mark Schwarzer has created a bit of excitement around these parts - an easy way to hide the pain of [probably] missing out on Edinson Cavani - but personally the excitement stems from the fact an Australian will now play for Chelsea. My home country with my favourite football team? It's the perfect marriage.

However, Schwarzer is not the first Australian to have signed for Chelsea. That honour falls upon a fellow goalkeeper, another Mark - Mark Bosnich. Yet where Schwarzer, a widely-liked and well respected professional with the utmost dedication to his fitness, should have a fantastic one-year spell at the club as his career winds down, Bosnich's time at Chelsea was marred by injury, and fatally, drugs.

He failed a drug test in September 2002, leading to Chelsea tearing up the contract and him being banned from football for nine months. It was an acrimonious time, leading to stunning revelations about Bosnich's personal life:

"I never touched drugs until I was 31 - but once it got hold of my life, it became a massive struggle to break free. The worst times were when I thought of doing stupid things, not so much because of the ban but because of what was going on with my girlfriend. I was slowly killing myself but I didn't care."

Bosnich actually claims that he never took drugs until his career was over, insisting that his drink was spiked when he took that fated drugs test at the club.

Still, it was enough to push away his girlfriend, his career and his livelihood, with Bosnich's career spinning downwards dramatically - a far cry from the lofty heights that were predicted of the former Manchester United star. At his peak, Bosnich was regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the game, with two League Cups at Aston Villa in 1994 and 1996 his legacy once he moved onto Manchester.

Sir Alex Ferguson originally signed him as the replacement for Peter Schmeichel, the captain of the 1999 Treble winning side and thus giving Bosnich enormous shoes to fill when he made the move. Bosnich's first appearance for the club came ironically in his homeland, with United venturing Down Under for a pre-season tour before jetting back across the pond to secure another Premier League title in 1999-2000.

But Bosnich wasn't a key player in that title triumph, with Ferguson unimpressed by his performances. Rumours also suggest that the fall-out between manager and player was linked to a power struggle between Bosnich and Martin Edwards, United chairman - who initially was against signing Fabian Barthez, the keeper for France's 1998 World Cup triumph - but Ferguson eventually got his own way, with Barthez's arrival consigning Bosnich to the bench.

And so, having lost his spot both at club level but also with the national team - to Mark Schwarzer, of all people - Bosnich moved to Chelsea on a free transfer but on high wages. However, his spot wasn't guaranteed, with Ed de Goey and Carlo Cudicini providing strong competition for the no.1 spot.

Bosnich had been a long-standing Chelsea target with the club reputedly interested in his services when he was at Aston Villa, as Bosnich himself corroborated, saying at the time that he was disappointed he couldn't make the move to London - "but I am really chuffed they have given me a chance this time around."

"We are delighted he has chosen Chelsea," said managing director Colin Hutchinson at the time. "He wants to play for Chelsea. He is hungry to win things and put the past behind him." However, a hernia operation ruled Bosnich out for an extended period of time, and his debut came an extraordinary eighteen months after he originally signed.

It wasn't worth the wait, as Bosnich only went on to make seven appearances for the club - five in the league, two in Europe. The latter was as the goalkeeper for Chelsea's two legged tie against Hapoel Tel Aviv, who stunned the Blues with a 2-0 first leg victory, before knocking them out of the UEFA Cup with a 1-1 draw in the following leg.

However, by all reports Bosnich acquitted himself well in that debut away in Israel: the location of which had been in itself cause for controversy, as six Chelsea players refused to travel for fear of safety. Bosnich was, as expected, asked for his thoughts:

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't significant. Of course it is. The six players who didn't go, three or four of them are the heart of our team . . . but we live in a democracy and that means everybody has got freedom of speech. Each person's opinion should be granted full and utter respect, no matter what it is."

And in typical media fashion, his quotes were edited, with the papers filling their columns with tales of Bosnich's ‘slamming' of teammates. Even though the issue was smoothed over - "when the team asked me a few days later what I had said, Gwyn [the assistant coach] could tell them exactly what happened" - it was the first hint that this story would not end with a happy ending.

Nowadays, Bosnich has returned to football as a pundit for Australia's Fox Sports, after a brief renaissance trialling at Queens Park Rangers and the Central Coast Mariners. However, his troubles with drugs is a sobering reminder of the realities that professional footballers face, which is no more evident than in this anecdote he once shared:

"I used to speak to Paul Merson during our time together at Villa. He told me the problem with playing on cocaine was the increased risk of injury. Because the body becomes so dehydrated, he was picking up sprains and pulls all the time. I never sought his advice after I was banned but what he'd told me about his problems was pretty horrendous. Which makes me wonder more than ever why I got involved."

As we welcome a new Aussie, a new Mark to the club, it's worth remembering the darker side of things in football, something that is plainly evident in the difficult career of Chelsea's first ever Australian.

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