Being a fan of not just British sports, but also American ones I often find myself comparing the two sporting cultures and noting the similarities and differences. From the lack of promotion and relegation in the USA to the relative non-importance of hall of fame type organisations in the United Kingdom, in the end though, most things are the same - "Cowboys suck!", "Spurs are rubbish!" if you catch my drift...
The Football Hall of Fame, based in Preston, is the second attempt at defining the football icons of the English game after the original folded due to a lack of visitors. So under-appreciated it was that it's web address is now dedicated to lottery scratch cards. The reverance with which Americans hold their past sporting icons is perhaps explainable by the set, non-organic structure of their sports. With defined leagues of 30 or so teams it is easier for fans to retain interest with players across the nation and compare the greats of any given season or era.
In Britain, football fans are used to seeing their teams go up and down the leagues, play literally anyone in cup competitions and still have to contend with the diversity of the game as the best players in the world also feature in other European leagues and for their respective nations at international level. The tribal nature of the culture and larger number of players to pay attention to also means that fans tend to focus on their own team's players, comparing them with their clubs' greats from previous years.
With football, it is also much harder to compare players on an empirical level. The assist, being such a judgemental notion, is not an official stat and this leaves appearances and goals as the only numbers to compare players by. Given the myriad competitions that exist it is very difficult to find all these figures all in one place and even the most statto-ed fan would struggle to list career stats for more than a handful of players.
In sports such as American football one can define how many touchdowns and passing yards a quarterback throws for, the average number of yards a running back rushes for and the number of times a defensive player intercepts an opposition pass, to name but a few commonly cited facts. In effect, comparing players starts and ends with numbers, not opinions.
One thing I think that we can use on this side of the pond however is the staple US media favourite, the "All-Decade Team". Hopefully, all of us who follow the beautiful game have not dulled our minds with so much alcohol that we can't remember events since the turn of the millenium! So with that in mind, I've taken a look at Chelsea's best players who have appeared in games since the 2000-01 season.
The conditions are quite simple: 11 players in a 4-4-2 formation and 5 men on the bench (no goalkeepers) and the number of appearances doesn't matter as much as impact and trophies won. Here is my Chelsea team of the decade:
Goalkeeper Petr Cech: A closer call than one might think; Carlo Cudicini, a former Chelsea player of the year, recently left the club having kept 101 total clean sheets (3rd highest all time). A good penalty stopper, Cudicini made outstanding saves seem the norm, notably when diving full length to stop a close range header from Ruud van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford in 2003. Cech however, in spite of his troubles this year has been mentioned as one of the best 'keepers on the planet during his time at the club.
Right back Mario Melchiot: The Dutch full back signed from Ajax on a free transfer in 1999 but injury kept him out for much of his first season, although he did start the 2000 FA Cup final victory over Aston Villa. Known for his dreadlocks and long legs, Melchiot's consistency of form puts him ahead of Paulo Ferreira.
Left back Ashley Cole: A coin flip this one; club favourite Graeme Le Saux played through his second spell at Chelsea until 2003 and took part in many a memorable game, including scoring in a 4-0 rout of Tottenham at White Hart Lane in an FA Cup tie. It was his move to the left of midfield that has Cole nipping in here, who has just finished his best season in a blue shirt.
Centre back and captain John Terry: The clearest of choices is John Terry, who timed his debut season to perfection for this blog in 2000, taking over from Frank Leboeuf and winning player of the year the year after he sat on the bench during the last FA Cup win at the old Wembley. Has been the official captain since 2004 and there is nothing that needs to be said about his performances. Has formed excellent partnerships with Marcel Desailly, William Gallas and Ricardo Carvalho.
Centre back Ricardo Carvalho: Another difficult decision, Carvalho comes out ahead of Gallas and Desailly by virtue of his majestic performances for the Blues, helping the club win a glut of trophies since his arrival in 2004. While the Terry-Gallas axis was at times impenetrable, manager José Mourinho felt compelled to shift the Frenchman (who is now less fondly remembered at the club after his acrimonious departure to Arsenal) to left back and no fan would argue with him now. Desailly, monumental player though he was, never produced consistent form for the club in a league he was not best suited to.
Right midfield Joe Cole: One year removed from player of the year status, Joe Cole has turned into a relevation at the club since being one of the first signings made possible by Roman Abramovich's millions in 2003. After an inconsistent start at the club new boss Mourinho drilled into him a work ethic and Cole lit up the second half of our 2004-05 Championship winning season, scoring blinding goals such as an effervescent left foot strike at Norwich City. His form led to the eventual depature of crowd favourite Damien Duff.
Left midfield Arjen Robben: The pick with the least number of appearances, Arjen Robben gets in by virtue of being the most talented player the club has seen since Gianfranco Zola. The Dutch winger, although hampered by injuries for much of his career in west London, helped blow away the opposition in tandem with Damien Duff, scoring amazing solo efforts (eg; at home to Everton) and changing games with his pace, trickery and at times, diving!
Centre midfield Frank Lampard: The iron man of Chelsea's midfield for a decade now, Frank Lampard could be nicknamed the metronome, given the unerring nature of his top-notch performances for the club over eight seasons. Underrated in his first two years (especially so as he carried an £11 million transfer fee) Lampard began to take games by the scruff of the neck in 2003 and has scored exactly 100 goals in his last 5 years at the club. He has already made it to 5th on the club's all time appearance list and is 6th in goalscoring.
Centre midfield Claude Makélélé: Claude Makélélé was a stalwart for the club in his five seasons at Chelsea, showing the world how destructive and creative the holding role could be. So good he was in fact, that the role is now known by his name! Maka sat in front of the back four, harrying and intercepting the opposition, but also helped the midfield tick over with his short, accurate passing. His first goal for the club, after an awful saved penalty, wrapped up the great 2005 title season. Have you ever seen Maka score a goal? Yes we have!
*A 4-3-3 formation would have seen the tremendous Michael Essien in the final midfield slot, but I feel with an abstract team such as this, two spots have to be reserved for forwards.
Forward Gianfranco Zola: In spite of finishing his Chelsea career in 2003 Gianfranco Zola's impact at the football club warrants a place in my all-decade team. Watching his last performance in the Champions League clincher against Liverpool at the Bridge, even while heavily intoxicated, was a pleasure although I fail to remember if I cried or not witnessing him play with the ball near the corner flag while defenders in red shirts floundered around him. A man and footballer I will forever feel privileged to have watched, especially when he dedicated a mesmeric back-foot-flicked-volley goal to a child who had recently died in an FA Cup tie against Norwich.
Striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink: Another tough call, but I feel compelled to go with the Dutchman who rocked Stamford Bridge in his four seasons at the club, scoring goals for fun with both a smile and a scowl on his face. Memorable strikes versus Manchester United and Wolves and a round of applause when he scored on his return with Charlton will live long in the memory. Leaving Didier Drogba out feels almost sacrilegious, especially with a 30 goal season under his belt, but Hasselbaink bled blue for the club.
Substitutes: Marcel Desailly, William Gallas, Michael Essien, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Didier Drogba.
Who features in your team of the past ten years?
-- Ross Mooring