Chelsea are notorious for breaking the bank when it comes to new signings. The Blues have not been afraid to spend big in recent years, and the current summer transfer window is no exception with the likes of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz.
Club spending has risen massively under Roman Abramovich, but it all started with the birth of the Premier League and the arrival of Robert Flack. He was their record signing and their first to exceed £1m – a bargain in the modern transfer market.
Over the past three decades, this record fee has been broken 12 times by Chelsea. Whether they go down as legends or fail to leave their mark, there have been record breakers galore at Stamford Bridge.
Robert Flack, Chelsea’s first £1m signing. / Anton Want/Getty Images
transfer: From Norwich City July 1992
Honors: No one.
Fleck was the first player to join Chelsea for over £1m, when they paid £2.1m to Norwich. He moved to west London before the Premier League was established, but failed to make a real impact in three years at the club.
He scored just three goals in 40 appearances, twice going out on loan to Bristol City and Bolton. Fleck eventually returned to Norwich in 1995, where he eventually achieved legendary status with the Canaries.
Paul Furlong is in action for Chelsea. / Gary M. Pryor/Getty Images
transfer: From Watford July 1994
Honors: No one.
Furlong left Hertfordshire for London in 1994, his transfer fee slightly higher than Fleck’s. It was a fairytale for the striker, who was playing non-league football with Anfield just three years earlier.
He scored on his Chelsea debut in a 2–0 win over Norwich, finishing his first season with a respectable 13 goals. However, Furlong scored just three runs in the following campaign, before signing a record signing for Birmingham City.
Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge. /gettyimages/gettyimages
transfer: From Lazio July 1996
Honors: FA Cup (x2), League Cup, Community Shield, UEFA Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Super Cup
When Chelsea signed the Swiss-born Italian midfielder from Serie A, it was hard to imagine the impact. Di Matteo scored the winner on his Stamford Bridge debut against Middlesbrough, netting inside 42 seconds against the same opposition in the FA Cup final later that season, which the Blues won 2–0.
Di Matteo won six trophies in blue, including the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid. When he returned as manager ten years after retirement, he took his club tally to eight trophies, and managed the Blues to a stunning Champions League triumph in 2012.
Chelsea’s Pierluigi Casraghi. / Ben Redford / Getty Images
transfer: From Lazio in July 1998
Honors: FA Cup, UEFA Super Cup
Chelsea decided to re-engage with Lazio two years later, spending just over £5m on striker Casraghi. With 106 goals on Italian shores, he was expected to repeat his goalscoring prowess under fellow compatriot Gianluca Vialli.
Unfortunately, Casirghi never found his feet, although he made a modest 15 appearances over two years. His only goal for the Blues came in a 1–1 draw with Liverpool, before his career ended in 2000 with a cruciate ligament injury.
Chris Sutton plays for Chelsea. / Ben Redford / Getty Images
transfer: July 1999 from Blackburn
Honors: No one.
Perhaps one of the Blues’ most infamous signings was when they bought Sutton from Blackburn, their first player to arrive for an eight-figure transfer fee just shy of the new millennium. . The fact that he only spent one season at the Bridge tells the whole story.
After scoring in their second game against Latvian side Skonto Riga, Sutton found just one goal in 28 league appearances, going the last seven months of the season without a single goal. It never worked out for him in west London, leaving for Celtic after 12 months.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink celebrates scoring a goal for Chelsea. / Ben Redford / Getty Images
transfer: July 2000 from Atletico Madrid
Honors: Community shield
A striker who went under the radar for many, Hasselbaink became a cult hero during his four-year spell at Chelsea. He brilliantly won just one piece of silverware in his time there, marking his debut in the 2000 Community Shield with a goal and a win.
Hasselbaink was a goalscoring machine, winning the Golden Boot with 23 goals in his first season. He played a key role in setting the club up for its future success by reaching double figures in all four seasons.
Damien Duff celebrates a goal. / ODD Anderson/Getty Images
transfer: July 2003 from Blackburn
Honors: Premier League (x2), League Cup, Community Shield
His tally of 19 goals may not reflect it, but Duff was a key player in Chelsea’s glory days under Jose Mourinho. He caught the eye from the moment he made his Blues debut, and it wasn’t long before he helped the club to their first league title in 50 years.
During Chelsea’s back-to-back Premier League victories, Duff racked up a total of 18 goal contributions, ending his time in the capital with four major domestic honours. He was a valuable part of the club’s title-winning squad, contributing heavily to both successes.
Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. / Adrian Dennis / Getty Images
transfer: July 2004 from Marseille
Honors: Premier League (x4), FA Cup (x4), League Cup (x3), Community Shield (x2), Champions League
When Mourinho was questioned about signing an unknown Ivorian striker from Marseille, he simply replied: “Judge him when he leaves the club.” Drogba went on to become – twice – their best striker of the modern era, Chelsea’s fourth-highest goalscorer and one of the club’s greatest ever players.
Drogba was a special striker, always turning up in the big games and stealing the show when called upon. Winning 14 trophies in nine years, none more special than the Champions League, where the Ivorian scored the equalizer and the winning penalty in the shootout: the biggest night in the club’s history.
Michael Essien celebrates his goal for Chelsea in the Premier League. / Paul Gilham / Getty Images
transfer: August 2005 from Olympique Lyonnais
Honors: Premier League (x2), FA Cup (x4), League Cup, Community Shield, Champions League
Affectionately known as ‘The Bison’, Essien was a brilliant midfielder and a brilliant signing from Lyon. His nine years at Chelsea were his best, making 256 appearances and winning trophy after trophy.
Whether it was lifting the Premier League on two occasions, ensuring the Blues were FA Cup kings or that incredible night in Munich, the Ghanaian was a constant choice at the heart of the midfield. For £24.4m, he proved to be a real bargain for the Blues.
Shevchenko is in action for Chelsea in the Champions League. / Etsuo Hara/Getty Images
transfer: May 2006 from Milan
Honors: League Cup
Two years after winning the Ballon d’Or, Shevchenko arrived at Chelsea with a lot of pressure and expectations. It was a signing that sounded too good to be true – after all, a poor spell in England proved to be exactly that.
Shevchenko scored 22 goals in three years, the lowest return of his illustrious career. Even a loan return to Milan, where he failed to score a single league goal, didn’t help the striker’s form refresh. He eventually returned to his native Ukraine in 2009 with Dynamo Kyiv.
Chelsea’s Spanish striker Fernando Torres. / Ben Stansall / Getty Images
transfer: January 2011 from Liverpool
Objectives: four five
Honors: FA Cup, Champions League, Europa League
Transfer deadline day in 2011 proved to be one of the biggest in football history, when Torres broke the British transfer record with his £50m move from Liverpool. Although it is generally remembered as a flop that never lived up to its potential, El Niño had some memorable moments out of the blue.
His stunning goal against Barcelona to secure Chelsea’s place in the Champions League final will always be remembered, as will his strike in the Europa League final the following year. A return of 45 goals in three-and-a-half years was unsustainable, but he still deserves credit for what he achieved at the Bridge.
Alvaro Morata celebrates scoring against Everton. / Julian Finney / Getty Images
transfer: July 2017 from Real Madrid
Honors: The FA Cup
Morata’s Chelsea career draws many parallels to that of his Spanish compatriot Torres, scoring nine goals in his first 14 Premier League games. Antonio Conte looked set to sign a world-class striker from Real Madrid, but it soon went downhill in west London.
The Spaniard found himself lacking in confidence, and it was clear that the criticism and bad looks were getting to him. Morata always looked frustrated on the pitch and was never the same again, returning to boyhood club Atlético Madrid to rekindle his lost love for the game.
Chelsea’s current goalkeeper, Capa Arrizabalaga. /Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
transfer: August 2018 from Athletic Club
Clean Sheets: 33*
Honors: Europa League*
*As per 2019/20 season
The third and latest Spaniard to break Chelsea’s transfer record was Arrizabalaga, who arrived from the Athletic Club to become the Blues’ number one as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. His debut season saw him keep 23 clean sheets, but his second season in goal was painful to say the least.
Arrizabalaga’s numbers led to some unpopular records, with those stats being among the worst ever in the Premier League. Whether or not the Spaniard will get a chance to return to his best under Frank Lampard remains to be seen, but Capa will have to prove himself if he is to live up to his record-breaking price tag.
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