The match which led to Roman Abramovich's acquisition of Chelsea
Once dubbed the 20m game, it gradually went on to become the 'Billion pound game' for Chelsea
After a torrid start to their title defence, which led to the sacking of Jose Mourinho; Guus Hiddink’s return to the Stamford bridge managerial hot-seat has seen the Londoners go eight matches unbeaten.
Slim chances of a top 4 finish were given a boost with a victory over arch-rivals Arsenal. Despite the win, Chelsea are 14 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham. Champion’s league qualification for next season looks far-fetched, making this the worst season in the Roman Abramovich era.
The significance of not achieving a spot amongst Europe’s elite will have an effect on the clubs spending powers next season due to financial fair play regulations. But in all likelihood, the club's financial prowess and football ambition will suffice in keeping hold of the current group and build on it next season.
The ramifications of this repugnant campaign in current context might seem abysmal but does not come in comparison to what the club has endured in its past.
Circa 2003, the club was in a completely different situation. Locked in a period of major financial debt and growing rumours regarding massive player clearout and budget cuts at the end of the 02-03 campaign. Finishing in the top 4 that season was quintessential for keeping them financially able and to compete at the top level.
Chelsea’s final game of the season was at home against Liverpool. Both clubs were locked at 64 points each but Blues’ greater goal difference meant they were occupying the final Champion’s League spot. Anything but a loss would send the London club to Europe’s premier competition. The clash was dubbed the ‘£20m game’.
The squad walked out onto the pitch knowing their’s, as well as the club's future, depended on what transpired in the next 90 minutes. The group consisted of many talented players like Zola, Lampard, Gudjohnsen, etc. The headlines though would belong to a certain Dane(not Nicklas Bendtner!).
11 minutes into the game and the Reds silenced the home crowd. Sami Hyypia escaped his marker to head into the Chelsea goal from a Steven Gerrard free kick. However, the home side hit back within a minute and levelled the game. A corner was not dealt with by the Liverpool defence and Danish winger Jesper Gronkjaer sent the ball back into the box, onto the head of Marcel Desailly; the Frenchman pulled off a perfect a header that went in off the far post.
26 mins in, a throw in on from the right side of the Chelsea attack was collected by Gronkjaer and the Dane cut in to escape Riise and unleashed a shot with his left foot that nestled into the bottom right corner! The Merseyside club failed to find the Chelsea net again and a red card to Gerrard sealed the result. Chelsea F.C were going into the Champions League and crisis seemed to have been averted for the time being.
Amidst all the drama on and off the pitch, a Russian oil tycoon was pondering the takeover of a Premier League club. Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur were his two best options at the time. The West London club's financial conundrum had Roman Abramovich leaning towards Spurs. However, passage to the Champions League and Spurs’ inability to do so tilted the odds in Chelsea's favour and he would eventually take over the club in July 2003.
Jetting back to 2016, this is his 13th season as club's owner and he has spent approximately 1 billion pounds in transfer fees; fuelling a meteoric rise from near reaches of bankruptcy to European champions. One might wonder, would the Russian have bought the club if not for that victory?
Looking back at the club's history, it is safe to say, that game in May of 2003 was their billion pound game!