After Roman Abrahamovic's takeover at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have come to be known for splashing the cash in the transfer window. A criticism that is often levelled at them is that the team bought its way to success, something which would not have been possible without the controversial Russian oligarch.
In the market, they have paid some exorbitant sums for players who haven't come close to justifying their transfer fee. The likes of Fernando Torres and Alvaro Morata, both of whom were record transfers, come to mind, although the latter could still prove his doubters wrong.
In this slideshow, we will look at the other end of the spectrum: bargain bin signings made by shrewd Chelsea managers, who proceeded to exceed and defy all expectations.
#5 Dan Petrescu ( £2,300,000 )
Dan Petrescu is arguably the greatest right back in Chelsea history. The Romanian, signed from Sheffield Wednesday, was an exciting attacking fullback, who had emerged on English shores after a terrific World Cup with Romania in 1994. The man sure had pedigree and had represented Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup final in 1989.
The Romanian was an integral part of the Chelsea set-up until he was involved in a bust up with manager Gianluca Vialli. Nonetheless, he was a part of the team that won the FA Cup in 1997 and the League Cup in 1998. He also led Chelsea to their first European Trophy in almost three decades as they clinched the Cup Winner's Cup, also in 1998.
Petrescu had an impressive eye for goal, scoring a commendable 17 goals in 152 games from an unfancied right-back position. Widely regarded as one of the top right backs in the Premier League, Petrescu even made into the Premier League Overseas Team of the Decade and was an undeniable bargain.
#4 Tore Andre Flo ( £300,000 )
Brought in from Brann in the summer of 1997, when he was establishing himself as one of the finest Norwegian talents, Tore Andre Flo would enjoy great success leading the line at Stamford Bridge. The man hit the ground running, scoring on his debut, albeit in a losing effort and then smashing in a hat-trick at White Hart Lane.
However, he did register an impressive 15 goals in his debut season as well as winning the League Cup and Cup Winner's Cup alongside the aforementioned Petrescu. Flo scored 10 goals the next season, as his opportunities were limited, but he helped Chelsea qualify for the Champions League.
In his final season at the club, he top-scored with a commendable 19 goals and added an FA Cup to his collection. Flo ended up with a record of 50 goals from 93 starts and was widely respected for his exploits. He was sold to Rangers in the Scottish Premier League for 40 times the price paid to bring him in, 12 Million pounds.
3. Cezar Azpilicueta ( £7,000,000 )
Cezar 'Dave' Azpilicueta is, in my opinion, the best defender in the Premier League today. The fact that Chelsea snagged his signature for only 7 million pounds, just as the market was spiralling out of control, befuddles me. Initially, the signing was treated with scepticism as Branislav Ivanovic was seen as irreplaceable and undroppable by most fans.
But, Azpilicueta bided his time and eventually found his way into the first team. In his first season, he played 8 times for Chelsea in Europe as they won the UEFA Europa League under Rafael Benitez. The arrival of Jose Mourinho changed things and soon, Azpilicueta became indispensable.
He replaced Ashley Cole at left-back and fought off competition from Filipe Luis as well, winning the League and the league cup under Jose. To his credit, after the arrival of Antonio Conte, Azpilicueta adapted and began to play on the right side of a back 3, shifting seamlessly into his role and clinching yet another League title for Chelsea, banishing the memories of Mourinho's third season.
Dave is now a right-back again under Maurizio Sarri, and I hope that he stays in West London for a long long time.
2. Ashley Cole ( £5,000,000 + William Gallas )
When Chelsea signed Cole from Arsenal under acrimonious circumstances, they did it for a remarkably low price. The 5 million pounds and swap of William Gallas, a player threatening to score own goals if he wasn't sold, turned out to be a win-win for Chelsea as in Cole, they had signed the best left back in the Premier League.
Cole quickly established himself as undroppable and won everything during his time at Chelsea. He won the league with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, a League Cup, 4 FA cups in addition to the 3 he won at Arsenal, for an incredible 7 FA Cup winners medals. He also won both European trophies in back to back seasons, establishing himself as one of the best left-backs in world football.
His legacy, as a player anyway, is incredible. He won the England Player of the Year award in 2010, twice winning the Chelsea Player's Player of the Year Award and making the best ever Premier League team, as chosen by panels and pundits after 20 seasons. Ashley Cole was an absolute bargain.
1. Gianfranco Zola ( £5,580,000 )
The man voted as the best ever player to have played for Chelsea was signed in the November of 1996 from his native Italy. Right from the get go, he displayed his extraordinary skill and talent including *that* goal against Manchester United, which prompted Ferguson to brand him a " clever little so and so. "
Amazingly, he won the FWA Player of the Season award despite not playing the entire season, the only player ever to do so. The following season, he led Chelsea to 3 trophies ( including the European Super Cup) and then played a crucial role for Chelsea in their first Champions League campaign.
Twice winning the FA Cup, Zola has become a greatly revered legend in West London. No player has worn the 25 number jersey since Zola's retirement. Since then, Zola has been named in Chelsea's centenary eleven, and was even awarded the OBE in a special ceremony in Rome.
A true legend of the game and a man deserving of his spot at the top of this list.