Chelsea’s rise to the top of the European game has rapidly accelerated over the last decade with the advent of Roman Abramovich and his millions, and much of the focus is on one man ahead of their Champions League tie with Inter.
Former Blues boss Jose Mourinho is renowned for his outspoken persona and ‘the Special One’ has not held back ahead of the clash. There is more to tie and the history of the two clubs together than just the Portuguese tactician, however.
The two squads have never met before in an official match, having avoided each other on their previous forays in the Champions League, the UEFA Cup and the now defunct Cup Winners Cup. They did come up against each other in a pre-season tournament in the United States last summer, with Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard scoring in a 2-0 victory for Chelsea.
They have tended to avoid each other on the pitch, and few players have chosen to swap one club for the other over the years either. Christian Panucci joined Chelsea on loan from the Nerazzurri in 2000, but made just eight league appearances before leaving for French outfit AS Monaco.
The purchase of Chelsea by Roman Abramovich in 2003 enabled the club to spend hitherto unimaginable sums of money on players, with Adrian Mutu one of the first to move to Stamford Bridge under the new regime. The Romanian, who was unable to impose himself on the Inter squad when he signed for the Nerazzurri in 2000, joined the Blues for £15.8m from Parma.
Juan Sebastian Veron was another multimillion pound signing for Chelsea, who paid Manchester United £15m for the Argentine. Despite a positive start to his Stamford Bridge career, he faded as the 2003/04 season went on and was loaned out to Inter when Jose Mourinho became Chelsea manager in 2004. ‘La Brujita’ stayed in Italy for two seasons before moving back to Argentina with Estudiantes.
Hernan Crespo also signed for the Blues in 2003 for £16.8m from Inter, and scored 12 goals in 31 games in his first season for the club. However, as was the case with Veron, Mourinho shipped Crespo out on loan to Milan in 2004 before recalling him in 2005. After 13 goals in 42 games in 2005/06, Crespo decided that he wanted to return to Italy and re-signed for the Nerazzurri.
More recently, Luiz Felipe Scolari looked to save his sinking Chelsea ship by signing Ricardo Quaresma on loan from Inter, but the Portuguese winger was as woeful for the Blues as he has been for the Italian champions and returned to Italy last summer.
Only one man has managed both clubs over the years: Jose Mourinho. Abramovich chose the Porto boss to succeed Claudio Ranieri on the Chelsea bench, and he famously said in his first press conference, “I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.” He led Chelsea to their first top-flight domestic title for half a century in his first season, and won the Premier League title again the following year.
The FA Cup followed the following year, but the Champions League continued to elude him as he exited in the semi-finals in 2005, the last 16 in 2006 and the semi-finals again in 2007. He spent almost a season out of the game before joining Inter in the summer of 2008, but while he has continued to win the domestic title with the Nerazzurri, he has not yet been able to replicate his European success with Porto.
On the opposite bench is Carlo Ancelotti, who spent eight years in charge of AC Milan prior to moving to London. During his time in charge of the Rossoneri, ‘Carletto’ won 10 out of 18 meetings against their cross-city rivals and lost just five.
In addition, Inter duo Samuel Eto’o and Thiago Motta have played alongside Chelsea’s Deco and Juliano Belletti at Barcelona. In 2006, Eto’o and Belletti both scored in the Champions League final against Arsenal, for who Blues left back Ashley Cole then played.
The history of some of the figures involved will give the clash a little extra needle, as if it needed much more after some of the verbal barbs flying between the two camps, particularly when Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge. ‘The Special One’ was brought to Inter to win the Champions League – we must wait and see if he can overcome the next, rather familiar hurdle of Chelsea in his path to European glory.