Chelsea F.C. was founded at the start of the 20th century, and over the years became one of the most popular teams in Europe. Even though they’ve had to contend with some clubs who are seen as more “prestigious”, Chelsea has held its own and has become a staple at the top of the standings in the English Premier League.
To make its surge in popularity and years of success possible, Chelsea has had to have a lot of great players. Which ones stand out as the best, though? Here are our picks for the five best players in Chelsea history. Before we start the list, here are some notable Chelsea players who just missed the cut: Peter Osgood, Ron Harris, George Hilsdon, Peter Cech, and Peter Bonetti.
One of just two members of the list to not be born in England, Didier Drogba hails from the Ivory Coast and made his way to France to begin his professional football career. Drogba made his senior debut with Le Mans in 1998, and over the following few years played for Guingamp and Marseille. Then, in 2004, Droga moved to Chelsea and became a staple, having one long stint with the club and one brief one.
Drogba holds the Chelsea record for most EPL goals in one season (29) while also holding a slew of other season-long scoring achievements. He ranks fourth on the all-time scoring list for Chelsea with 164 goals, doing so in just 381 appearances. 36 of those goals came in European competition.
There were a lot of English clubs that wanted to acquire the talents of Bobby Tambling during the mid-1950s, but it was Chelsea that landed him. After two years of playing youth football, Tambling was promoted to the senior squad and spent more than a decade playing for Chelsea up until 1970. He spent the 1970s playing for several different teams, including Cork Celtic and Waterford.
Tambling is just one of two people to record more than 200 goals for Chelsea, collecting a total of 202. He didn’t need many appearances to do it, either, as he scored that much in just 370 matches. Tambling holds the Chelsea record for most league goals, and he helped the squad win the Football League Cup in the 1964-65 season.
Like Didier Drogba, Gianfranco Zola made a lot of other stops before playing for Chelsea as he was born outside of England. The Italian native made his professional debut in 1984 with Nuorese before spending time with Torres, Napoli, and Parma. Finally, in 1996, Zola became part of Chelsea’s squad and spent the next seven years in London before wrapping up his career with Cagliari.
Zola won the 1996-97 Football Writers’ Association Football of the Year honors and was named the squad’s Player of the Year twice. Though he was never part of a Premier League-winning team with Chelsea, Zola did take home two FA Cups and the 1998 EUFA Cup Winners’ Cup. In 2006, Zola was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
John Terry started his youth football career with West Ham United, but in 1995 moved to Chelsea. Three years later, he was promoted to the senior squad where he spent almost a full two decades on the roster (outside of a brief loan to Nottingham Forest). Terry played his final match with Chelsea in 2017 before a brief run with Aston Villa to end his playing career.
For many who grew up watching Terry, it was hard to even picture him wearing another kit. He had more appearances for Chelsea than all but two men (Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti), and also won the 2004-05 PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. Thanks to Terry, Chelsea was able to win five Premier League titles.
Just like John Terry, Frank Lampard began his youth career with West Ham, but he also started his professional career with the squad. After spending six years on their squad, Lampard was moved to Chelsea where he spent 13 years. He then wrapped up his career with stints in Manchester City and New York City FC of Major League Soccer. Lampard even spent time as Chelsea’s manager from 2019 to 2021.
Obviously, Chelsea supporters remember Lampard more for his play on the pitch. Nobody has scored more goals in Chelsea history than Lampard, putting up 211 in 648 appearances. Bobby Tambling is the only other player to achieve more than 200. Lampard won three Premier League titles with Chelsea and was the 2005 Footballer of the Year in England. In 2021, he was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame.