Frank Lampard and John Terry have become Chelsea legends. I don't think you'd find a fan anywhere that would argue that. They'e both currently sitting in the top five for all time in appearances at Chelsea, and with relatively healthy seasons both should find themselves passing John Hollins for third on the list at some point this season.
That got me thinking about the all-time appearance record. The top three of Harris, Bonetti and Hollins all played in a very different era. The Premier League wasn't full of international stars at that point, and Chelsea were far from a dominant team. Players could break through at a younger age, tended to move less than they do now, and generally played until a much later age.
In the modern era, we're going to see far fewer Chelsea legends that make their senior debut for Chelsea, and far more that are purchased after they've already established themselves elsewhere. Didier Drogba is a perfect example of this, as he made 341 appearances for the club after joining at the age of 26. His all time numbers won't ever top the Chelsea charts due to the time he spent elsewhere, but I don't think there's any denying that his time at Chelsea has made him one of the legends of the club.
With that in mind, I thought I'd do some digging. I was curious as to who the all time appearance leaders were among players whom Chelsea signed after their senior debut. The top five were as follows:
- Frank Lampard (565)
- Dennis Wise (445)
- Steve Clarke (421)
- Kerry Dixon (420)
- Eddie McCreadie (410)
I'm sure many of us are hoping that someday we'll be seeing names like Oscar, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku on that list, so with that in mind I decided to look at the top five appearance-makers (excluding Terry and Lampard) currently on the Chelsea squad (or on loan). Every one of them was purchased after making their debut elsewhere. They are:
Two names really jump out at me here. First we have Petr Cech, who should jump well into the top ten in all time appearances if he stays healthy this season. Assuming he plays about 45 more games would see him trail only Frank Lampard and Dennis Wise in appearances amongst players who started their professional career elsewhere, as well as jumping to 7th all time. As a keeper, Cech could have a very long career with a ton of appearances, so he could be a legitimate threat to the all-time Chelsea mark.
Secondly, I was shocked that John Obi Mikel had as many appearances as he did. Mikel has only played a handful of games since his 25th birthday, so he should still have quite a few years left in his career. He's already amassed 244-appearances in Chelsea blue though, and it got me thinking about where he could end up.
Mikel has never played a game that would be noted for pace, covering great volumes of distance, or explosive movement. He's instead been a player that positions himself well, moves well off the ball, and provides stability in front of the defense. Those types of players tend to have both longer careers and later peaks, so it's very possible that Mikel could be a viable contributor at or above his current level into his mid-30's.
With that in mind, John Obi Mikel could be a legitimate threat to pass Frank Lampard atop the appearances list for Chelsea signings. On Lampard's 25th birthday, he had amassed 101 appearances for Chelsea. On Mikel's 25th birthday, he had already amassed 236. If he continues to average 40 appearances per season (his career rate thus far), he'd be sitting at a whopping 599 for Chelsea by the time he reaches Lampard's current age. At that same rate (and it seems likely to increase in his prime), he'll crack the all time top ten in Chelsea appearances right around his 29th birthday. With the way players of his skillset traditionally age, that seems like a very plausible scenario.