Born over a century ago, Chelsea’s roots remain firmly in Stamford Bridge, their only home. It’s a stadium which witnessed some of English football’s finest players and this is our list of the top 20 best Chelsea players of all time.
Since Roman Abramovich’s arrival in 2004, the club has enjoyed a spell of unprecedented success. Champions of England; champions of Europe, along with a glittering array of domestic and continental cups.
The Blues, with the rampant lion sitting firmly in the centre of their club crest, are filling their supporters with pride. And celery.
But deciding which is their best matchday squad is another matter. A few players are beyond compare; the others? Well, put 100 Chelsea fans in a room and you’ll get 101 opinions!
See who makes the starting line-up and who is on the bench for our best-ever Chelsea line-up!
You can also check our 2019/20 Premier League season preview to see what the current squad can achieve!
1. Petr Čech
There were two outstanding candidates for the job of goalkeeper and both stake a strong claim to the #1 shirt.
Petr Čech wins with his calm unflappable manner tilting the decision in his favour. He was the foundation upon which the Premier League titles and European success were built.
All this despite a traumatic head injury in 2006 which forced him to wear skull cap for the remainder of his playing days. Ryan Mason of Hull City suffered a similar injury and unprompted, Čech offered him support throughout his recovery.
A European champion with the Czech Republic at Under-21 level, as well as being the Golden Player at that 2002 tournament, Čech won every honour at club level: the Premier League (4 times), FA Cup (4), League Cup (3), Champions League and Europa League (both once).
To complete the set, he had runners-up medals in them all!
Four-time winner of the Premier League Golden Glove, it says much of Čech’s standing that then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was reportedly furious when he left for Arsenal in 2015.
Čech returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019 to become technical director.
A great player and a true gentleman. And a bit of a talented drummer…
2. Steve Clarke
An unsung and uncompromising right-back, Steve Clarke patrolled the flanks with authority on 451 occasions in 10½ years until 1998.
A Scottish international, he arrived from St Mirren in a £422k deal in February 1987, back in the halcyon days before transfer windows.
25 years ago today Chelsea’s Steve Clarke takes exception to being rinsed by Martin Allen and tries to teach him a lesson.
Sky’s pundits aren’t sure it’s a red card. Judge for yourself…
— Proper Football (@sid_lambert) October 2, 2019
This was a time when the Blues were cup specialists; Clarke featured in a glut of cup triumphs in 1997 and 1998. Domestic final triumphs came at the expense of Middlesbrough; the FA Cup followed by the League Cup, both 2 – 0.
Completing the trio of trophies was the UEFA Cup, in its’ penultimate season, saw VfB Stuttgart fall to a single Gianfranco Zola goal in Stockholm.
That wasn’t the peak of Clarke’s career, however. His place was assured in the list of Top 20 Best Chelsea Players of All-Time when the Blues won the 1989-90 Full Members Cup at Wembley. Just for a change, Middlesbrough were the victims.
The Scot, criminally underused by his country, has gone on to become a highly-respected coach turned manager, currently at Kilmarnock.
3. Ashley Cole
England’s finest left-back yet probably the most unloved outside Stamford Bridge. Ashley Cole was stolen from Arsenal for a paltry £5m and William Gallas.
In 338 appearances, Cole became the benchmark against which other full-backs were marked. 107 England caps and one of the most highly decorated players of all-time.
He loved the FA Cup, winning seven times (four with Chelsea), three Premier League (one), a League Cup, Champions League and Europa League; Cole was a serial winner.
And a fantastic defender. Quick, tenacious and strong in the tackle, Cole had it all. Except height and even then, he was no slouch in the air.
He garnered as many headlines off the pitch with his marriage to pop star Cheryl Tweedy occupying almost as many column inches as the Beckhams. But the nation never took him to their heart.
Spells in Serie A and MLS took him out of the public eye and the newspapers before returned to the English game with Derby for half-a-season before retiring in August 2019.
4. Claude Makelele
It’s a testament to Makelele’s abilities that for years, every club in England desperately searching for their own Claude Makelele.
Chelsea took a decade to fully replace him, signing N’golo Kante from Leicester City to finally close that gap.
Makelele rose to fame with Marseille and then Real Madrid, becoming the archetypal exponent of the defensive midfield role in the modern game. Intelligent, he was a phenomenal reader of the game, using his knowledge to intercept passes than tackle.
But when he was forced into the challenge, there was nobody more ferocious or fearless than the France international.
Even during the Indian summer of his days at Stamford Bridge, he proved imperious. So much so that Michael Essien, a powerful and much-admired defensive midfielder, was forced to play as a right-back during 2007-08, including the run to the Champions League final.
No happy ending, however; Manchester United won on penalties in Moscow.
5. John Terry
If any player encapsulated Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, it is John Terry. Captain for club and country, he was as fearless as they come.
Terry was a controversial figure, guilty of affairs and racism, but is still worshipped in the Matthew Harding Stand.
It was his ‘never say die’ attitude which won supporters heart. Discharging himself from hospital following a boot in the face from Arsenal’s Abou Diaby so that he could celebrate the 2007 League Cup final win typifies his time with the club.
He never shied from putting his body on the line nor did he miss any celebrations!
Terry was the first Chelsea captain in 50 years to lift a league trophy, the first of five with the club. He was also the first to lift the Champions League trophy, as well as the Europa League.
His 67 goals for the club make him Chelsea’s highest-scoring defender. 717 appearances put him firmly in the top five of that list.
6. Ron Harris
‘Chopper’; that’s a proper football nickname. Leeds United had Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter, Chelsea Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris. And on that basis alone, allow us to introduce the captain of our squad of the Top 20 Best Chelsea Players of All-Time.
Harris’ nickname summed up football back in the 1970s. It was rough and tumble with tackles which would see a player arrested for aggravated assault today. And there was no finer exponent of the cutting tackle than Chopper.
— MoscowhiteTSB (@MoscowhiteTSB) January 3, 2018
Uncompromising is a word usually used associated with Ron Harris’ style but that underplays his abilities as a leader – he became the youngest captain in an FA Cup final in 1967 – and as a defender.
He was one of the pivots around which the success of the 60s and early 1970s was built, winning both domestic cups and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1971.
In total, Harris played 795 games for the club – a record – including 657 league appearances – another club record. Just for good measure, he holds the club’s record for most FA Cup appearances.
7. Eden Hazard
To think, were it not for a cheeky hamburger, Eden Hazard might have been an Arsenal legend.
As it is, the Belgian was a driving force behind the club’s Premier League success with a brand of trickery, impudence and cool finishing.
His £32m fee seems a snip these days and definitely money well spent, given the £130m fee Real Madrid paid for his services last summer.
Two Premier League titles, the same number of Europa League wins, with one apiece in the FA Cup and League Cup.
110 goals in 352 Chelsea appearances is all the more impressive knowing he reached double-figures in all bar one of his seven seasons at the club. His contribution was so much than that, however. Hazard holds the record for most chances created by a Chelsea player in the Premier League: 595.
He was, above all else, appreciated by players and fans alike as he was crowned the PFA, Premier League Player of the Year, as well as multiple times for Chelsea
8. Ray Wilkins
If you’re nickname is ‘Butch’, you’ve got to be a good player…And Ray Wilkins was one of the finest English midfielders of any generation.
Cruelly labelled ‘The Crab’ for passing the ball sideways, Wilkins rarely ceded possession and could, in old footballing parlance, place the ball on a sixpence such was the accuracy of his passing.
For such a sumptuous passer of the ball, it is surprising Butch only scored 35 goals in his 207 games for the Blues.
From his debut aged 17, Chelsea knew they had a special talent in their midfield and in 1975, 18 months later, he became captain of the side as they fought their way out of the Second Division.
However, a second relegation in 1979 signalled the end of his Stamford Bridge days with an £825,000 transfer completed that summer.
9. Didier Drogba
After seven relatively low-key seasons in French club football, Didier Drogba took his career into the stratosphere in nine seasons at Stamford Bridge.
A time which makes him the perfect man to lead the line in the XI of the Top 20 Best Chelsea Players of All-Time.
164 goals in 381 appearances for the club put him at #4 in the list of all-time Chelsea goalscorers and for some time, it felt like he scored all of them against Arsenal. Drogba terrorised the Gunners defence, in particular, Philippe Senderos and never tired of netting in that London derby.
Drogba is the club’s leading goalscorer in a single Premier League season – 29 in 2009-10 – with two Premier League Golden Boots to his name.
Four Premier League titles nestle in the Ivory Coast international’s trophy cabinet, accompanied by a Champions League winner’s medal, four FA Cup winner’s medals and three from the League Cup.
In footballing terms, Drogba had a good touch for a big man; it’s understating the case considerably. He was as comfortable in the passing game as he was when the Blues needed to play long balls.
More than just a battering ram, Drogba was impossible to knock off the ball once he brought it under his spell.
10. Frank Lampard
‘Fat Frank’ to opposing fans, Frank Lampard Jr had the last laugh as he became Chelsea’s record goalscorer, taking Bobby Tambling’s record set in 1970.
Like many of his goals, that laughter probably deflected its way to you but Lampard won’t care.
For 10 consecutive seasons, Lampard claimed double-figures in goals scored, including a five-year spell from 2005 that saw him claim 108 goals in 260 appearances. It’s a record which puts many central strikers to shame.
— Classic Chels (@ClassicChels) November 30, 2016
Now he is tasked with giving young players the same opportunities he enjoyed. As Chelsea boss, he will be as proud of the likes of Mason Mount occupying centre stage.
If any one of them matches his trophy haul, then Frank Lampard as player and Blues boss will rightly be the Chelsea legend to end all legends.
11. Gianfranco Zola
It’s hard to find a fan who wouldn’t want Gianfranco Zola in their side.
In his peak years, Zola was one of the finest imports the Premier League ever had. Even on his off days, the mercurial Italian made the best in the league look distinctly average.
Diminutive of height, the midfielder never shirked his workload, inspiring Chelsea in seven seasons of pure adventure.
His is not a career measured in statistics; Gianfranco Zola was one of the game’s artists, to be treasured and enjoyed.
So, enjoy this compilation of his finest moments as he finishes the XI of our Top 20 Best Chelsea Players of All-Time!
All of which leaves the starting XI as:
But who are the remainder watching from the touchline, the bench in the Top 20 Best Chelsea Players of All-Time?
12. Bobby Tambling
For fifty years, Robert Victor Tambling was Chelsea’s record goalscorer with 202 goals in 370 games.
He set the tone for his career with a goal on his Chelsea debut, a 3 – 2 win over West Ham United in 1959. It was his only appearance of the season with a certain Jimmy Greaves blocking his path to the starting line-up.
🎈 Happy birthday to the great Bobby Tambling! pic.twitter.com/jiBUpiv4X1
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 18, 2019
However, by the time of Greaves departure to Italy in 1962, Tambling already claimed 36 goals in 68 games. The remainder of his goals came in seven seasons as he starred in two cup finals for the Blues.
His race was run by 1970 with the likes of Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson claiming the main striking roles for the Blues.
But Tambling’s contribution was never forgotten and remains immortalised in the Chelsea record books.
13. Peter Bonetti
“The Cat” is the nickname every goalkeeper wants. Agile, lithe and most importantly, nine lives! Outside of Stamford Bridge, Bonetti never received the recognition he deserved, winning only seven England caps. Mind you, his competition was Gordon Banks.
He belatedly received a World Cup winner’s medal in 2010 for being a member of England’s successful squad.
Bonetti enjoyed close to 20 seasons as Chelsea’s #1, however, and won all the major honours which came the club’s way during the 1960s and 70s. A total of 731 appearances, 602 of which came in the league, underline his consistency and athleticism.
He made his final appearance for the club in 1979, at 38 years of age.
14. Alan Hudson
Hudson called his autobiography “The Working Man’s Ballet” which sums up his career perfectly.
Alan Hudson was an artist, bringing a sweet touch and glorious passing range to an agricultural patch of land called English football.
In a land of troglodytes, Hudson was one of a rare breed of entertainers. Never appreciated by international managers, always loved by home fans.
A local boy made good, he spent five seasons at the heart of the Chelsea midfield but it ended in tears as he fell out with then Blues boss Dave Sexton, the prelude to a £240,000 move to Stoke City.
15. Roy Bentley
After spells with Bristol City and Newcastle United, Roy Bentley moved to Stamford Bridge in January 1948, scoring 150 goals in the process.
— Chad (@ChelseaChadder) March 18, 2017
His finest hour came in 1954/55 as captain of Ted Drake’s title-winning side, the first in Chelsea’s history.
It was with the Blues that he received international recognition, winning 12 caps and scoring 9 goals.
He was a member of the first England squad to play in a World Cup finals, and the last survivor at the time of his death in 2018.
16. Marcel Desailly
Tall, athletic, strong and brave, Marcel Desailly was one of the best centre-backs to play for Chelsea and can consider himself unfortunate not to make it into the starting line-up of our Top 20 Best Chelsea players of all-time.
He earned his nickname ‘The Rock’ not through a love of WWF wrestling but for his consistent displays at the heart of the defence, be it for Milan, Chelsea or France. 116 caps for Les Bleus tells you how good the World Cup winner was.
Success was limited at Stamford Bridge; he left with just a European Super Cup winners medal and one from the 2000 FA Cup final, departing in 2004 as Abramovich’s Golden Age began.
17. Jimmy Greaves
One of English football’s most prolific goalscorers, Jimmy Greaves began his career at Stamford Bridge as an apprentice.
Naturally enough, he scored on his debut against Tottenham Hotspur, for whom he would later play.
Greaves finished that season with 22 goals, making him the club’s leading scorer.
In all, he scored a staggering 132 goals in 169 Chelsea appearances, giving him the best goals per game ratio of any Blues player.
18. Peter Osgood
Another striker, another cult hero; Peter Osgood’s goalscoring record never did his natural skill true justice.
For a decade, he led the Blues line mixing his skill with a toughness all good strikers required in that era.
He finished with 150 goals for Chelsea, 105 of which were in the league. That’s one more than Didier Drogba managed for the Blues.
Osgood is one of the elite band of players to score in every round of the FA Cup, managing the feat in 1970, including a goal in the victorious replay over Leeds United.
19. Peter Sillett
Claims to be the best-ever full-back are ten-aplenty. When those words come from Sir Stanley Matthews, you sit up and take notice.
Another member of Ted Drake’s title-winning side in 1955, Sillett was a free-scoring full-back, netting 34 times for Chelsea.
Peter Sillett scores from the penalty spot against Wolves and Chelsea virtually clinch the Championship pic.twitter.com/NBcNlkh9AR
— The League Magazine (@Theleaguemag) August 31, 2015
Sillett was noted for his consistent performances whose performances also drew praise from one of England’s finest captain’s, Billy Wright, who believed Sillett deserved at least 97 more England caps than the three he earned.
20. Charlie Cooke
The final entry in the top 20 best Chelsea players of all-time is Scottish winger, Charlie Cooke.
After making his name with Aberdeen and Dundee United, Cooke brought his twinkle toes, dancing shoes and every trick in the book south of the border in 1966 for a club-record fee of £72,000.
Cooke made 373 appearances for Chelsea in two spells with the club, and was a member of the successful cup final sides between 1967 and 1972.
His medal haul included the FA Cup in 1970 and the Cup Winners Cup a year later.