By Joe Doyle
Chelsea players have had their critics over the years. Their high profile stars like John Terry, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba have come under attack in the past for various reasons - but it's time to drop the resentment, and remember them for being some of the greats of modern football.
After an FA Cup win against long-term rivals Liverpool that broke all sorts of personal records for the west London side's squad, it deserves to be recognised just how effective this group of players are.
If a Champions League crown is finally added to their trophy cabinet, it will be an outstanding moment in the careers of players that many consider to have already peaked.
"Captain, Leader, Legend," says the banner flying in Stamford Bridge about the ever-present John Terry. He will have his enemies, both in the game and in the press box, as well as stadiums around England.
Since the tabloid scandals two years ago that saw Terry stripped of the England captaincy, the centre-back has been vilified. He also has an upcoming trial date that could tarnish his profile further still.
And while nobody should seek to denounce the claims against him, neither should his accomplishments on the pitch be overlooked.
The 2-1 win over Liverpool sealed his fifth FA Cup win, and fourth as captain of the club. Say what you like about him, but that is an extraordinary record.
The fact that he will be missing from the team that takes to the field in Munich in two weeks' time is a huge loss for Roberto Di Matteo. It is entirely his fault, of course, and another reason he came under criticism recently.
His decision to knee Alexis Sanchez in the back was a poor one. In picking up a red card, he let the team down – an action almost completely out of character for a man that so often puts his body on the line for the sake of his club.
Terry will not go down as the most popular man in footballing history, but an effective captain? You won’t find many so dedicated to the cause as him.
Another player destined to go down in the history books for some of the wrong reasons is left-back Ashley Cole.
Cole, like Terry, is no stranger to the front pages as well as the back. Headlines have dogged him since his relationship with former Girls Aloud member Cheryl began – and seemingly ended (who can tell these days?)
But in picking up another winner's medal on Saturday, Cole pushed his tally to seven successful cup campaigns. Seven. The only entities above him in that list are clubs. Only Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham have won the competition more often than he has.
In his position, he is almost unparalleled in the Premier League. The initial deal that took him to Stamford Bridge from Arsenal in a player-plus-cash deal involving William Gallas now looks one of the best bargains in recent history.
Cole may be on a downward slope at 31 but when his career does come to an end he can justifiably say he was world class. A player who has had the England left-back slot sewn up for almost 10 years, collecting an impressive haul of 93 caps.
Didier Drogba, another member of the old guard, has earned a little more than his fair share of ‘haters’ in his time at Chelsea. Since his £24 million move from Marseille, he has been almost irreplaceable for the Blues.
Four FA Cup finals. Four goals. Four wins. His record at Wembley is untouchable. He gets criticised for his almost oxymoronic style of play – displaying his strength in aerial challenges and holding the ball, but falling to the ground at the touch of a feather.
Drogba has become an archetypal ‘big-game’ player in the past few years for the club. He occasionally lets his temper get the better of him – see the Champions League final in Moscow when he slapped Nemanja Vidic, earning himself a red card, and his outburst following the 1-1 draw at home to Barcelonain 2009 that saw them dumped out on away goals.
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But since then, Drogba seems to have learned his lesson. He no longer puts himself at risk of receiving red cards. As far as Fernando Torres’ personal redemption goes, it will have to wait until Drogba has had his fill.
And last, but certainly not least, Frank Lampard. The midfielder is the stand-in captain for when Terry is unavailable. And he has undoubtedly been one of England’s finest players over the past 10 years.
Yes, the national team have underperformed, but at Chelsea, the midfielder has become nigh on indispensable. The 33-year-old isn’t a player who has lost too many friends, unlike John Terry, perhaps.
However, his contributions have been somewhat overlooked this season. It has been a year in which Juan Mata and Ramires have shone as Chelsea’s best players, in the midfield at least.
Lampard seemed to be on the way out under Andre Villas-Boas, but with the leadership of Di Matteo he has found his place in the side once again.
He laid on the all-important pass for Ramires’ goal in the Camp Nou, and defended particularly well with the Blues up against the wall.
He is just one more of Chelsea’s older players that should be lauded for their merits on the field, rather than castigated for their behaviour off it.