WHEN Roman Abramovich arrived in 2003, Chelsea attracted the biggest names in the game.
The Russian poured millions into his beloved Blues, particularly in his earlier years with the club, before he was forced into selling the club when he was hit by government sanctions.
He quickly set his stall out in his first few seasons at the helm by bringing the likes of Arjen Robben, Claude Makelele and Didier Drogba to West London.
That’s not to mention highly-rated young Porto coach Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea have hardly struggled for trophies in the following years, scooping five league titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League triumphs. And it is astonishing to think that they could have had even more.
Yes, the Blues were within touching distance of signing a whole host of other superstars.
And here is an XI of those that could have brought yet more silverware to the already overflowing Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet:
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GK – Alisson Becker
The Brazilian stopper briefly became the most expensive goalkeeper in history when he signed for Liverpool in July 2018 for £66.8million, but things could have been oh so different.
In Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea thought that they had secured a long-term replacement to their legendary, Champions League winning goalkeeper Petr Cech.
But that summer, the Blues became resigned to losing the lanky Belgian to Real Madrid, and Roma keeper Alisson shot to the top of their wishlist.
As Brazil’s incumbent No1, coming off the back of an extremely impressive year with the Italians in which he helped his team to the Champions League semi-finals, Alisson was hot property.
But despite Chelsea’s best efforts, he opted to move to Anfield instead, later explaining his decision to FourFourTwo magazine.
He said: “I chose Liverpool for the same reasons I went to Roma when I first left Brazil—I thought this would be the best move for my career. Chelsea were changing their manager and not playing in the Champions League.
“I’ve also always admired Liverpool’s history. This is a club with five European Cups in their trophy cabinet. I really wanted to be part of that history.”
As it turned out, Alisson didn’t hold the title of world’s most expensive goalkeeper for very long, with Chelsea scrambling around the very next month to splash £71million on Kepa…
RB – Dani Alves
Barcelona and Chelsea formed an intense rivalry after a number of heated Champions League battles between the pair throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
And after joining the Catalan giants in the summer of 2008, Alves became a key cog in these matches, rampaging down the right flank in what has become trademark fashion down the years.
The Brazilian won an astonishing 23 trophies during his first time at the Nou Camp, but again things could have been very different, had he gone to Stamford Bridge instead.
More than a decade later, the now 38-year-old revealed that he had given a move to West London from Sevilla in 2007 the green light.
He told Sky Sports: “I didn’t go to Chelsea because of the club, not because of me.
“I thought it was done, that I was going there to work with [Mourinho]. I don’t know if he got different information, that I didn’t want to go or whatever, because since then our relationship hasn’t been so good, but it wasn’t my fault.
“I was convinced that I was going to work with him and form part of his team.”
CB – John Stones
“Money can’t buy you Stones,” Everton supporters gleefully sang.
It was August 2015, and having just won his third Premier League title, Mourinho was desperate to land the highly-rated 21-year-old defender from the Toffees, to bolster his ageing defence.
Everton held firm over the confident centre-back, however, much to the increasingly moody Portuguese’s ire.
With John Terry’s once imperious powers on the wane, and having seemingly lost the dressing room, Mourinho was sacked four months later – while it turned out money could in fact buy Stones the year after, just not Chelsea’s.
The Yorkshireman joined Manchester City for £47.5m in 2016, and has won three Premier League titles under Pep Guardiola.
On his reasons for ultimately joining City, he told Soccer AM: “Guardiola was 100 per cent a major factor, if not the main reason for me coming.
“There’s a lot of factors when you’re thinking about moving clubs but in my eyes he’s the best manager in the world to work with.
“To be given that opportunity to work with him, I couldn’t say no.”
CB – Virgil van Dijk
Of all the names on this teamsheet, Van Dijk’s may sting Chelsea fans the most.
The Dutch defender was highly sought after during his time at Southampton, but it was Liverpool, rather than Chelsea that opted to splash what had seemed an extraordinary £75m to prise him away from St Mary’s.
But he has gone on to be worth every penny.
Helping Liverpool to Champions League glory, and a key cog in their title win in 19-20, van Dijk’s incredible performances even saw him come second in the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
Then Chelsea boss Antonio Conte had been desperate to land him, but revealed his side were priced out of the move.
The surly Italian huffed back in 2018: “This is football. This is life. For sure he was our target, but as you know this is football.
“We can have a lot of targets, but you must be able to reach those targets. The transfer market is not simple for any club.”
LB – Roberto Carlos
Legendary left-back Roberto Carlos was a key figure in Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’ side of the early noughties, wowing fans with his astonishing left foot.
His 11 years at the Bernabeu came to an end in 2007, when he surprisingly moved to Turkey – signing for Istanbul giants Fenerbahce.
But the Brazilian revealed a decade on that he had come close to joining Chelsea instead.
The Blues had arguably the best left-back of his generation in Ashley Cole, but few would have said no to a 34-year-old Carlos as back-up – even just to take free-kicks.
The man himself told Sky Sports: “I spoke to Roman Abramovich about it. We had a meeting in Paris but it didn’t happen due to a few small factors.”
CM – Steven Gerrard
In July 2005, just weeks after lifting the Champions League trophy with the club he had played for since the age of eight, Steven Gerrard shocked the world by handing in a transfer request.
He wanted to join up with Mourinho at Chelsea.
The then Liverpool captain and now Aston Villa manager had grown tired of his contract stand-off with Anfield chiefs, and when the Blues made a £32m bid, Gerrard’s head was well and truly turned.
Mourinho was a huge fan of the player, and perhaps was the man to solve the infamous Gerrard-Frank Lampard England dilemma – particularly with Claude Makelele available to field them with in a midfield trio.
But the move failed to materialise and within a matter of days the darling of the Kop had signed a bumper new £100k-a-week contract.
All was forgiven, all was forgotten, and Gerrard played another ten seasons at Anfield.
But having never won a Premier League title, you could forgive the 41-year-old for occasionally wistfully looking back and wondering what might have been…
CM – Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba has divided football fans since his then world-record £89m return to Manchester United in 2016.
But what few can dispute is the Frenchman’s outrageous talent when fit and on his game.
His relationship with Mourinho famously broke down at Old Trafford, but that does not mean that the Special One was never a fan of his.
In fact, in the same summer that Chelsea had courted Stones, having won the league in 2015, Mourinho wanted Pogba to spearhead the Blues’ title defence the following year.
But his agent Mino Raiola and Juventus blocked the transfer after agreeing the Frenchman would stay put in order to try and win the Champions League instead.
The late Raiola said: “Paul could have left [Juventus] last year because Mourinho – then at Chelsea – really wanted him.
“But Juventus and I had an agreement: win the league title and the Champions League, then he can go.”
RW – Robinho
The disgraced former star didn’t live up to expectations on the pitch.
A once outrageously talented trickster known for dazzling defenders with his trademark stepovers in the white of Madrid, however, the Brazilian was courted by his compatriot Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2008.
It had seemed a foregone conclusion that he would end up at Stamford Bridge… but then he didn’t.
He instead shocked the world, by signing for Manchester City in Deadline Day’s dying embers.
Back in 2018, he lifted the lid on the surprise transfer, telling FourFourTwo: “I wanted to go to Chelsea.
“Scolari told me that I could make the difference for him in the team.
“However, Real Madrid ended up badly with them, they didn’t like the way that Chelsea sold shirts with my name on them before the deal was done.
“I am sure it was this that led to the negotiations to fail and it was a case of pride for Real Madrid.
“They were also reluctant to let me move to a club that was playing in the Champions League that season. Chelsea were, but City weren’t.”
CAM – Ronaldinho
The Brazilian hit headlines last year for surprising reasons, but here we’re going to focus on his football.
For in the mid-2000s, Ronaldinho felt untouchable.
He was the planet’s most exciting player, dazzling defenders with his outrageous tricks, and winning fans around the globe with the immense swagger and charm that he played with
It is well-known that he nearly signed for Manchester United in 2003, before instead leaving Paris Saint-Germain for Barcelona.
But it is lesser known that Chelsea were also in for him.
The man himself later revealed: “Chelsea tried to take me there once, and some other teams were interested in signing me, too.
“The league there is so fast and so intense all of the time – it’s great to watch and not boring at all.
“I don’t tend to watch all 90 minutes of Premier League games, but I will see more of the highlights and the goals in the Premier League than I see of other leagues around the world.”
LW – Neymar
Another major star that just got away from the Blues.
The year was 2010 and an 18-year-old sensation by the name of Neymar was leaving jaws on the floor with his array of tricks and flicks while wearing the colours of Santos in his native Brazil.
West Ham had surprisingly been the first Premier League side to dip their toe into the market for the wonderkid (now that would have been something..!), but had been rejected out of hand.
Champions Chelsea were to be next, even tabling a £27m bid for the player.
Like the Hammers, they were turned down, but kept trying, even reportedly setting up secret meetings with the player’s father in order to convince him that his son’s future lay in West London.
The deal failed to materialise, however, with Santos amazingly being able to keep him for another three years before finally selling him to Barcelona.
After much success in Spain, PSG made him the world’s most expensive player in 2017 when they splashed out £200m for his services.
ST – Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney, possibly the most gifted English footballer of his generation, became Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer after netting a free-kick against Stoke in January 2017.
But four years prior to that, it looked as if the explosive striker wanted to leave Old Trafford for good.
The fiery character had his run-ins with Sir Alex Ferguson, but it was when his former Everton boss David Moyes arrived in the summer of 2013, that Chelsea went all out to sign him.
Rooney later denied handing in a transfer request in Sir Alex’s final season, but admitted considering his options.
He told the BBC: “I went in to see him [Ferguson] and just said if you’re not going to play me it might be better if I moved on – then all of a sudden it’s all over the press I put in a transfer request, which I never did.”
That summer, Mourinho, having just returned to Stamford Bridge, boldly claimed that Rooney was his ‘only transfer target’.
Chelsea had a flurry of bids rejected, and Rooney ultimately stayed at Old Trafford.