Yeah yeah, you’ve got Patrick Vieira, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Thierry Henry and all those proficient players. But you know what? Proficient is boring. It’s Friday afternoon, there’s not much news about, and we want to shame some footballers.
– Must have played for Arsenal or Chelsea against the other.
– All competitions considered.
– Only players from 2000 onwards. Sorry, Robert Fleck.
– Must have been a bit sh*t.
Goalkeeper: Vito Mannone
A bit harsh, in truth, but Arsenal have used precious few goalkeepers in this fixture. Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski were Mannone’s only meaningful competition, and both were and are better goalkeepers. The Italian played just 14 league games for Arsenal, but one of those was the 2-1 home defeat in September 2012. Even Fernando Torres scored.
Right-back: Justin Hoyte
The mind constantly plays tricks on you, but there is no surprise quite like realising that Justin Hoyte played 68 times for Arsenal, including against Chelsea in 2007. Still only 31, the defender is currently without a club after being released by Dagenham after they were relegated from the Football League in May. This week Hamilton Academical rejected the chance to sign him after a trial. Only seven years after leaving Arsenal, it’s all a bit sad.
Centre-half: Igors Stepanovs
If Arsenal supporters might wish Hoyte well and sympathise with his struggles to find a club, Stepanovs should not expect the same treatment. Signed by Arsene Wenger from Skonto Riga in 2000, Stepanovs was supposed to cover for Tony Adams’ injury. It was as ridiculous an ambition as it sounds. The Latvian was at his worst during the 6-1 defeat to Manchester United, but every performance had examples of the stinky genre.
I can’t apologise for including this anecdote from Ray Parlour on how Arsenal ended up signing Stepanovs, in full:
‘Arsène was so clever at identifying great players to come in. But there were one or two gambles that didn’t quite come off. In the summer of 2000 a player turned up on trial at our pre-season tour. He was a tall centre-half. Now, Martin Keown was always worried about people coming in to steal his position. If we had a centre-half on trial, Martin would say he was useless. This big guy from Latvia, Igors Stepanovs, turned up. He was a unit, but seriously, he was not up to standard.
‘A few of us were on the bench watching as he played in this trial game. Stepanovs is out there and every single pass he made, the boys started applauding, just because we knew Martin would be getting a bit steamed up by it. Dennis Bergkamp was sitting behind Arsène and kept doling out these compliments about this defender. “Great header! Unbelievable tackle!” Igors kicked this one ball 20 yards away from where it was meant to go but it still went to one of our players so we all stood up clapping. Martin’s muttering: “He’s not that good.” He started to point out where he missed a tackle or a header.
‘That night we went for dinner and laughed about it as we were only trying to wind Martin up. We all knew Igors was nowhere near the standards set by Tony Adams, Martin and Bouldy. But Martin is such an easy target because he bites. Once someone bites it’s too tempting. Dennis seldom missed a trick because Martin would kick him every day in training. He always came out with a blinder to explain it to Dennis: “I’m just getting you ready for what you are going to face in the match.” Martin was a great player, a great character, a great winner. I think we all cared so deeply.
‘When we got back to the training ground at London Colney a week later we had a surprise though. Igors was sitting there. I said: “What are you doing here?” “They signed me. Four-year contract.”
‘Incredible. Arsène didn’t know we were just trying to tease Martin. He just kept listening to us heaping praise on this player. And if Dennis Bergkamp stands up and says: “What a player,” Arsène would be entitled to take a bit of notice. I suppose it looked like a bargain at around £1m. No disrespect to anyone from the lower leagues but Igors was a yard behind us on the pitch, it was like taking my brother to training.’
Centre-half: Sebastien Squillaci
“There were a lot of expectations, but it’s always been tough for the centre-backs at Arsenal – you can see that before I joined and after I left,” Squillaci told beIN Sports in April. “Arsenal conceded goals and they’ll always concede goals. It’s because of the club’s philosophy.”
It’s also because you were really very bad indeed, fella.
Left-back: Andre Santos
Armand Traore can take a huge sigh of relief, but has the excuse of youth for his time at Arsenal. Santos, however, was just dreadful. Signed for £6m from Fenerbahce, he started 13 Premier League games, got pelters for swapping shirts at half-time with Manchester United striker (and accused Judas) Robin van Persie, and was given a driving ban after refusing to stop for police and attempting to evade them in a chase during which he drove at 145 mph. Worra knob.
Right-wing: Quincy Owusu-Abeyie
Sometimes you convince yourself that a player will be good by name alone, and the opposite also occurs; it’s the only explanation for why Steve Cook has still not been picked for England. The name ‘Quincy Owusu-Abeyie’ convinced me that he was going to be a little star – how could he not be? As it happened, he wasn’t. Still only 30, Owusu-Abeyie has played in Russia, Spain, Wales, Greece, Portugal, Netherlands and Qatar since leaving Arsenal in 2006. Busy boy.
Central midfield: Denilson
“I am surprised by two things – by how well he has done and how little credit he gets from the media. I don’t think many people have gone down and deeply analysed his game. If you analyse it a little bit in a deeper way, that means the ground he covers, how many balls he wins, how quickly he passes the ball, where his balls go, you will be quite surprised.”
Sorry Arsene, but we just never saw it.
Left-wing: Ryo Miyaichi
The Dutch media nicknamed Miyaichi ‘Ryodinho’ after comparisons to Ronaldinho, and he has also been called the ‘Japanese Messi’. Neither of those things should have happened, even if he is still only 23.
Striker: Marouane Chamakh
There are still times when I catch myself daydreaming, thinking about Chamakh’s hairstyle. It was spiked up in the middle but long at the back and covered in gel, like a 13-year-old who decides that he wants to go trendy to his first school disco and believes that hair product is an appropriate substitute for a love potion. All he needs is a questionable Ben Sherman shirt and a desperate wish not to get an erection when slow dancing with a girl and he’s all set.
Striker: Jay Emmanuel-Thomas
‘In the 2008–09 season he made 39 appearances for both the youth and reserve teams, scoring seven goals. He captained the youth team as they were crowned Premier Academy League champions. They were first in Group A and after beating Group C winners Manchester City 2–1 in the semi-finals, they beat club rivals Tottenham Hotspur 1–0 in the Play-off final on 17 May 2009 at White Hart Lane.
‘He also played a big part in the youth team winning the 2008–09 FA Youth Cup, in which he scored in every round. Arsenal beat Liverpool 6–2 on aggregate in the two-legged final, with Emmanuel-Thomas captaining the side and also scoring in the 4–1 first leg win at the Emirates Stadium.’
These do not sound like the Wikipedia paragraphs of an 18-year-old who would be on loan from the Championship to League One at the age of 25. “When his fitness is right, Jay will be not only a good player but a great player,” Wenger once said. He was wrong.
Striker: Jeremie Aliadiere
[We had a quote from Arsene Wenger here, but it now appears that we have been duped. Bastards]
Goalkeeper: Marco Ambrosio
One of the last signings of a bygone era for Chelsea, Ambrosio arrived a month before Roman Abramovich completed his takeover of the club. Signed by Claudio Ranieri on a free transfer from Chievo, the Italian arrived as third-choice goalkeeper behind Carlo Cudicini and Neil Sullivan. However, Ambrosio was handed an opportunity as injuries struck, only to produce a host of errors in a 4-2 victory at Notts County in the League Cup, although he was part of the side which knocked Arsenal’s Invincibles out of the Champions League.
Right-back: Emerson Thome
With a Chelsea career which was bookended by relegation battles with Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland, Thome faced the daunting task of trying to break up the central-defensive partnership of World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf. To make matters worse, the £2.7million signing was cup-tied for Chelsea’s triumphant FA Cup campaign in 2000. Just one game into the following season, the centre-back suffered the ultimate ignominy of being sold on to make way for Winston Bogarde.
Centre-half: Bernard Lambourde
A red card 25 minutes into a 4-2 defeat at Liverpool, less than a fortnight after being signed by Ruud Gullit in a £1.6million deal from Brodeaux, was somewhat of a portent for Lambourde’s spell at Stamford Bridge. The defender started only nine of Chelsea’s 55 matches in his debut campaign, before the arrivals of Albert Ferrer and Marcel Desailly the following summer made his task of breaking into the starting XI even more difficult. With Chelsea needing a defensive rock in the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona in 2000, the Frenchman entered the fray at half-time; the Blues went on to lose 5-1. Lambourde made fewer appearances than Winston Bogarde in his final season.
Centre-half: Tal Ben Haim
Boasting a grand total of one season and 13 Premier League appearances for Chelsea, Ben Haim joined the Blues on a free transfer from Bolton in 2007. Early-season injuries to John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho presented the Israeli with a first-team opportunity under Jose Mourinho. With the defender in the side Mourinho didn’t even make it to October. Ben Haim made only six appearances for the club after the turn of the year and was fined £80,000 for criticising Avram Grant, who he eventually went on to play under at both Portsmouth and West Ham.
Left-back: Jon Harley
Last seen turning out for Maidstone United in 2013, Harley is a throwback to when Chelsea used to actually give their young players a run in the first-team. Ooo, burn. The left-back was an unused substitute in the victorious FA Cup-winning squad of 2000, but failed to establish himself ahead of either Graeme Le Saux and Celestine Babayaro, before going on to play for a further ten clubs.
Right-wing: Gael Kakuta
Chelsea – Fulham (loan) – Bolton (loan) – Dijon (loan) – Vitesse (loan) – Lazio (loan) – Rayo Vallecano (loan) – Sevilla – Hebei China Fortune.
Has there been a more ‘young Chelsea player’ career than Kakuta’s? He’s still only 25, and his now playing with Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gervinho and Stephane Mbia in China. Funny ol’ game, Saint.
Central midfield: Jody Morris
A Premier League debut at 17, followed by a Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FA Cup by the age of 21. He was also briefly made captain of Chelsea. Yet Morris’ greatest moment must surely have come in April 2000 when Barcelona’s Xavi identified him as his “toughest opponent”. A career dwindled firstly after rejecting a five-year contract from Chelsea and then after a series of high-profile misdemeanors. With Rio Ferdinand describing him as the best schoolboy footballer he’s ever seen in London, you just wish somebody had kept him on the straight and narrow. A playing career wasted.
Central midfield: Samuele Dalla Bona
Talking of swift declines brings us to Dalla Bona, who went from Chelsea and Milan to the fringes of Napoli’s squad and left without a club at the age of 31. Forced to train with the reserves by Claudio Ranieri after deciding he wanted to move back to Italy, the suspicion is that Dalla Bona just wasn’t quite as good as he thought he was. His league career consisted of fewer than 150 top-flight matches.
Central midfield: Slavisa Jokanovic
He might have ended up a stone’s throw away at Fulham, but Jokanovic’s first spell in West London doesn’t bear thinking about. Was heralded as a technical midfielder when he arrived in 2000 at the age of 32, but proceeded to amble around the midfield without any awareness that he might need to up the pace to meet the demands of the Premier League. Three months after being released by Chelsea, Jokanovic had retired completely.
Left-wing: Miroslav Stoch
Was he bad at Chelsea? Yes. Does he deserve a spot in this team? Yes, probably, although Mateja Kezman and Fernando Torres were also woeful for the money spent. Did he score one of the best goals you could ever wish to see? Oh yes.
Striker: Radamel Falcao
When you Google the words ‘Falcao Chelsea’, the fifth result on the first page is a link to a Daily Telegraph article. ‘Radamel Falcao cost Chelsea £800k per shot and £57k for every touch of the ball,’ the headline reads.
Yeah, that sums it up.
Daniel Storey and Rob Conlon