With the announcement that our new £16.3million right-back, Jose Bosingwa, looks set to miss the start of the new campaign with a torn thigh muscle, it’s had me asking a question I seem to have asked way too many times: What is it about Chelsea and right-backs? Left-backs, no problem – we’ve got England’s finest but when it comes to the other side of the pitch, it just never seems to happen.
Have we even had a decent one consistently since the days of Steve Clarke? Maybe we were spoilt with Clarkey having such a long period in his position but we’ve certainly not been afforded anywhere near the same luxury since. I mean, it’s not as if any of the players we’ve had since have come close to his 421 appearances and they definitely haven’t reached the club’s Player of the Year status he achieved in 1994. In fact, ever since our Cup Winner’s Cup final victory against Stuttgart in 1998, filling the right-back position has been pretty hit and miss.
Albert Ferrer, arriving in June 1998 definitely established himself in the position, for a while at least. This hard tackling, pacy right-back won a few friends and also helped us qualify for our first ever Champions League campaign in his first season. However, despite playing in 14 of our 16 games in the competition the following year, which saw us reach the quarter finals, he missed out on our FA Cup final victory through injury and his steady run in the side came to a halt. Injuries and rotation saw Chapi make a mere 14 appearances the following season and this reduced further still to 7 appearances in his final two years at the club. So, his 113 games for Chelsea was never going to rival Clarke.
In the summer of 1999 whilst Ferrer was still in favour, we brought in Mario Melchiot. Now here was a player you could really take to. Not only because it was great to see his athletic runs down the wing but also because he had a great character. I remember him saying before a game against Arsenal in 2003, we should “grab them by the throats and kill them”. Unfortunately, Mourinho’s arrival and subsequent clear-out saw Melchiot off to Birmingham City in July 2004 after a 5 year stay and 130 appearances.
2003 saw the arrival of both Geremi and Glenn Johnson. Johnson looked a pretty bright prospect during his first season and even though ruled out at the start of the following season through injury, still played a role within the squad. However, a combination of poor form and even poorer discipline at the start of the next season saw Johnson fall out of favour. Sent home from the England under-21 squad to nurse an attitude problem, Johnson was soon punching walls to rule himself out for Chelsea as well, seeing his place as right-back slipping further away until he sent out on loan and subsequently sold to Portsmouth. A mere 42 appearances in 4 years.
Geremi, was originally brought to Chelsea as a right-winger by Claudio Ranieri in 2003 although Mourinho’s arrival pushed him almost out of contention except as a back-up for the newly installed Paulo Ferreira. So, despite playing consistently under Ranieri, Geremi eventually left Chelsea for Newcastle after a four year period with 72 games to his credit.
Of course, it should also be mentioned that William Gallas thoroughly enjoyed the odd game filling in at right-back around this time as well, although since he’d tell us all he was employed as a centre-back at Chelsea, we’ll gloss over that one.
So, moving closer to the present day, and the beginning of the 2004-2005 season saw the £13.2million arrival of Paulo Ferreira. A very consistent performer initially, playing 29 games in the Premier League before being ruled out injured. The 2005-2006 season was pretty solid from Ferreira again but by 2006-2007 he was struggling for both confidence and form and dropped down the pecking order behind first Boulahrouz, then Geremi and even midfielder Lassana Diarra. Last season saw Ferreira again second or even third choice at times, behind Essien and Belletti, although that didn’t stop him signing a new 5-year deal keeping him at the club until 2013. 92 generally consistent although pretty unspectacular performances from him so far then.
Khalid Boulahrouz made a promising start for us in 2006, most notably having Ronaldinho in his pocket against Barca. However, dodgy performances and injuries saw him drop out of contention and he spent last season on loan at Sevilla before recently being sold to Stuttgart after a pretty pointless 13 appearances for us.
Juliano Belletti arrived shortly before Mourinho’s departure last summer, although at 32, we already knew he wasn’t going to notch up that many games for the club. Not a bad 23 in his first season for us with a couple of wicked goals to go with it, but his performances haven’t always been that consistent and at his age, he won’t be troubling Clarkey’s record either.
So, with Essien being totally wasted as right-back cover, the announcement of Jose Bosingwa’s signing came as a great relief. Here was a pretty decent right-back to kick our season with every position well and truly covered. Or not as the case may be?