Chelsea’s Best Non-British Players Ever

On Boxing Day 1999, Chelsea made history by being the first team in English football to name a starting XI fully comprised of foreign nationals. For a club setting this record, long before most teams would have been remotely close, it is no surprise Chelsea have enjoyed some exceptional foreign talent over the years.

Indeed, no club has fielded more overseas players in the Premier League than Chelsea since the formation of the division in 1992. At the time of writing their total stood at 198 players with a minimum of one league appearance. Of course, football did not begin with the Premier League though, so for this list we have considered any non-British player to play for the Blues over their entire history.

6. Marcel Desailly

Marcel Desailly
DFID | Wikipedia
  • Country – France
  • Chelsea Appearances – 222
  • Goals – 7
  • Debut – 9th August 1997 vs Coventry City

A defensive titan and World Cup-winner, Marcel Desailly stood as one of the pillars of Chelsea’s formidable backline during his time at the club from 1998 to 2004. The Frenchman’s imposing presence, exceptional reading of the game, and leadership qualities made him a linchpin in Chelsea’s defence. Desailly’s versatility allowed him to excel as a central defender or defensive midfielder, showcasing his adaptability and football intelligence. Admittedly, he was not quite at his AC Milan-prime during his later years at Stamford Bridge, as he joined aged 29, but what a player he was nonetheless.

Memorable Moment

Just the fact that Marcel Desailly, the former World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and Serie A winner was joining the club was a big occasion in itself. Stamford Bridge was no stranger to big names at the time but this was a particularly impressive coup for the club. As for a specific moment though, it has to be his goal against Liverpool on the final day of the 2002/03 season. The Frenchman helped get his side level and Jesper Gronkjaer’s goal sealed the win, meaning the Blues secured their return to the Champions League.

5. Claude Makélélé

Liondartois | Wikipedia
  • Country – France
  • Chelsea Appearances – 217
  • Goals – 2
  • Debut – 13th September 2003 vs. Tottenham

It is fair to say that Claude Makélélé’s impact on Chelsea’s midfield was profound. Signed in 2003, the defensive midfielder brought a level of positional awareness and ball-winning ability that transformed Chelsea’s style of play. The term “Makélélé role” became synonymous with his deep-lying midfield responsibilities, influencing a generation of players. His contributions were instrumental in Chelsea’s back-to-back Premier League triumphs in 2005 and 2006.

Memorable Moment

For all of his strengths, Makélélé carried very little goal threat, as highlighted by his mere two Chelsea goals. The fact that he, of all people, managed to smash in a half-volley from 25 yards out against rivals Tottenham only served to make it all the more memorable. Very few Chelsea players can say their last goal for the club was quite that special!

4. Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard playing for Chelsea
EvrenKalinbacak | Bigstockphoto
  • Country – Belgium
  • Chelsea Appearances – 352
  • Goals – 110
  • Debut – 12th August 2012 vs Manchester City

In the 2010s, one name stood out as the embodiment of flair and creativity at Chelsea – Eden Hazard. The Belgian winger dazzled with his dribbling skills, vision, and goal-scoring prowess during his seven-year spell at Stamford Bridge. Hazard played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s Premier League triumphs and Europa League success, earning individual accolades and establishing himself as one of the league’s very best players.

Memorable Moment

If we were to be a little cruel to Hazard we would say his most memorable moment was the time he “kicked” a time-wasting Swansea ball boy and was sent off. As we are in a kinder mood though we will instead go with the Belgian’s farewell game, the Europa League final against local rivals Arsenal. The Real Madrid-bound man scored two goals and set up another during a rampant 4-1 win, the perfect way to end a stunning Chelsea career.

3. Petr Čech

John Dobson | Wikipedia
  • Country – Czech Republic
  • Chelsea Appearances – 494
  • Goals – 0
  • Debut – August 15th 2004 vs. Manchester United

While goalkeepers often do not get the same spotlight as outfield players, Petr Čech’s contribution to Chelsea cannot be overstated. The Czech shot-stopper arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2004 and went on to become one of the greatest goalkeepers in the Premier League era. Known for his shot-stopping abilities, commanding presence, and incredible consistency, Čech was the closest a team could get to a literal brick wall. His clean sheets (a record 202 in the league) and memorable saves secured so many valuable points for the Blues.

Memorable Moment

It has to be 2012 Champions League final. For those of you keen on the expected goals metric, Bayern’s xG on the night was 3.17. The fact they only scored one (and then proceeded to lose on penalties) was largely thanks to the heroics of Cech. In extra-time, the Czech dived low to stop Arjen Robben’s penalty, which surely would have won in the contest. If this was not enough, he also kept out two penalties in the shootout.

2. Didier Drogba

Ben Sutherland | Flickr
  • Country – Ivory Coast
  • Chelsea Appearances – 341
  • Goals – 157
  • Debut – August 15th 2004 vs. Manchester United

Drogba’s towering presence, physical prowess, and lethal finishing made him a nightmare for defenders. The Ivorian striker’s nine-year stay at Chelsea (2004-2012 and a brief return in 2014-2015) saw him become the club’s fourth-highest goalscorer, etching his name in Chelsea folklore. Drogba’s leadership and charisma were equally important, especially during crucial moments in the club’s history.

Memorable Moment

Drogba made his debut in the same match as Cech and his most memorable Chelsea moment also comes from the same game as Cech’s. With only a few minutes to go, Chelsea needed a goal and were hardly piling on the pressure. Having won themselves a corner though, up stepped Drogba, always a man for the big occasions, who powered the ball home past Manuel Neuer. The rest, as they say, is history.

1. Gianfranco Zola

Gianfranco Zola
@cfcunofficial | Wikipedia
  • Country – Italy
  • Chelsea Appearances – 312
  • Goals – 80
  • Debut – 16th November 1996 vs. Blackburn Rovers

No discussion about Chelsea’s greatest non-British players would be complete without mentioning the diminutive Italian maestro, Gianfranco Zola. Signed in 1996 by Ruud Gullit, Zola quickly became a fan favourite with his flair, skill, and impeccable vision on the field. Zola’s impact was not only measured by his dazzling goals but also by his ability to lift the team’s spirit. His artistry in the attacking third and his knack for scoring crucial goals make him a true Chelsea legend.

Memorable Moment

Gianfranco Zola had many special moments during his time at Stamford Bridge so picking just one is a challenge. His majestic first touch and finish against Wimbledon in the 1997 FA Cup semi-final is well up there but we are going with his cameo against Stuttgart in the 1998 European Cup Winners’ Cup final. The Italian had endured a torrid season by all accounts but he managed to score the game’s only goal just 45 seconds after coming off the bench.