Twenty years ago this summer Chelsea signed Gustavo Poyet, and the Uruguayan is the subject of our latest feature focusing on players to have captained the club…
1997 had already been a thrilling year for Blues fans by the time Gus Poyet joined on a free transfer from Real Zaragoza in Spain. The dynamic midfielder had been an important member of their side that defeated Arsenal in the Cup Winners’ Cup final a couple of years earlier.
Boss Ruud Gullit was seeking to strengthen a squad that had just won the FA Cup, our first major trophy for 26 years. Alongside Poyet, he brought in a mixture of youth and experience: Ed de Goey, a veteran of the ’94 World Cup, Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo, Celestine Babayaro, an Olympic gold medal winner, and Bernard Lambourde, also a defender.
Over his four seasons at the club, Poyet would prove the most significant of those signings, playing a crucial part in four more trophy wins, and a near-miss in the league, too.
Indeed, many say that had he not been injured by a bad foul against Southampton at the Dell on Boxing Day 1998, subsequently missing three months, we, rather than Man United, would have won the title that season.
A cruciate injury had affected his first year in west London, too, but he recovered in time to score a tie-changing goal in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final against Vicenza, and then in the victorious final itself a month later.
Five goals in 19 appearances in 97/98 pointed to a natural goalscoring ability. Poyet possessed a varied armoury in that department: long-rangers, headers, and instinctive close-range finishes, such as his maiden goal for the club, against Barnsley.
His Super Cup winner against Real Madrid in Monaco was a more cultured finish, and it typified his happy knack of scoring important goals. Others included the one that qualified us for the Champions League for the first time, a winner against Leeds, and two clever efforts in a tight FA Cup semi-final against Newcastle at Wembley.
It was during the epic 1990/00 campaign that Poyet captained us for the first time, to mark his 100th appearance for the Blues.
He marked the occasion in style, too, thrashing in a 25-yarder against Lazio in a Champions League second group stage decider at the Bridge. He celebrated by putting his captain’s armband around his head in front of a joyous Shed End.
Unfortunately, Lazio turned the deficit around to top the group, so we were left with a mouth-watering tie against Barcelona which Poyet was disappointed not to start.
Still, he finished the season with an FA Cup winners’ medal, 18 goals – a number beaten only by Flo – and many people’s pick for the best scored that year, a remarkable scissor-kick volley in an opening-day thrashing of Sunderland.
He captained the Blues for a second time on New Year’s Day 2001, for the visit of Aston Villa (pictured top). Regular skipper Dennis Wise and Gianfranco Zola, another potential deputy, were named on the bench, while Marcel Desailly was injured, so Poyet led the side to a 1-0 win.
Though less favoured by incoming manager Claudio Ranieri than his predecessor Vialli, he still managed 12 goals in his 35 appearances in his final season at Chelsea. It brought his total statistics at the club to 49 goals in 145 games, an impressive strike-rate for a midfielder. It was testament to the timing of his runs, his technical ability and his fearsome aerial presence.
He moved across town to Tottenham as a 33-year-old and like many of his Chelsea peers of the era then stepped into management, including in England at Brighton and Hove Albion and Sunderland. He is currently in charge of Shanghai Shenhua in China.