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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 April, 2005, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Blues are now winners - Le Saux
By John May

Former Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux
England international Le Saux enjoyed two spells at Stamford Bridge
Graeme Le Saux arguably played a pivotal role in bringing Roman Abramovich to Stamford Bridge.

The defender, now at Southampton, starred in the 2003 game against Liverpool that sent Chelsea into the Champions League, in front of a then unknown Russian billionnaire.

But now Le Saux finds it irksome that the era before the Russian's input is dismissed as poverty-stricken famine years.

Le Saux made his Chelsea debut just as the Blues were emerging from exile with a return to football's elite.

The old Second Division title was won when manager Bobby Campbell gave Le Saux his bow at Portsmouth - his only league appearance outside the top flight.

"Chelsea were my first club, so I didn't have anything else to judge it by," Le Saux recalls.

"But I always felt they were a big club. Stamford Bridge was one of the old big stadiums and they always had a strong, loyal support.

Even then, Chelsea put their money where their mouths were

"People see a club with the sort of big support that Chelsea enjoy as a sleeping giant," says Le Saux, who admits during his two spells at the club, Chelsea were dogged by the failing which has been consistently levelled at them since they last lifted the title.

"We had potential but failed to live up to it, we couldn't turn that potential into success.

"In the days before the Premiership, finance didn't seem to have the emphasis it does today, and the financial gap between the top and bottom clubs wasn't so big."

In Le Saux's first spell at Chelsea they were able to pay big fees by the standards of the time for the likes of Andy Townsend (1.1m), Robert Fleck (2.1m) and Dennis Wise (1.6m).

"Even then they had enough money to attract great players, but you wonder whether players like Pat Nevin were allowed to go a bit too easily."

Le Saux himself was sold by then boss David Webb to a Blackburn side bank-rolled by the homespun Abramovich of his day, Jack Walker.

His return to Stamford Bridge after four years and a Premiership triumph at Ewood Park brought mixed emotions.

"It was something I had to think about. I didn't leave Chelsea on particularly good terms and coming back filled me with a bit of fear," he said.

"It was up to me to show how committed I was when I returned. They spent a lot of money on me."

Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri
I think under Claudio Ranieri we went sideways

The 7m Chelsea paid for Le Saux was part of the late Matthew Harding's legacy which raised expectation levels under Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and then Claudio Ranieri.

"They were exciting times because you could see the direction the club was going in.

"As a player you always look at the other players the club signs. It's an indication of commitment and gives you some idea of the club's ambition.

"Even then, Chelsea put their money where their mouths were and invested in the team."

Despite having World Cup winners in Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps and Frank Leboeuf, as well as expensive imports such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Boudewijn Zenden, Chelsea were still unable to land the big prize, the Premiership title.

Le Saux, though, was to play a major role in what was to be a life-changing moment for Chelsea.

His man-of-the-match performance in Chelsea's 2-1 win over Liverpool put them in Europe's premier competition and thus made the club a more attractive investment for Abramovich.

"The winners of that game would qualify for the Champions League," he remembers.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich
Le Saux left Chelsea soon after Abramovich arrived

"We won, qualified, and people say the fact we made it into the Champions League was the clinching factor in Roman Abramovich buying the club.

"So in the end, it was all down to me and Gianfranco Zola!"

But Le Saux was never allowed to be a part of life under Abramovich.

"I didn't realise that was going to be my last game for Chelsea," says Le Saux who went to Southampton as part of the deal that brought Wayne Bridge to Stamford Bridge - one of the first deals bankrolled by Abramovich.

"I left with a little sadness and disappointment but it's not something I regret.

"You realise you have your time at a club, and you can't turn the clock back.

"Chelsea had some relative success under Vialli and Gullit in winning the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup, but I think under Claudio Ranieri we went sideways.

"I think it's a little bit wrong to say that Claudio laid the foundations for Chelsea's success.

"You can be appreciated and rewarded for your time at a club, but you can't take credit for somebody else's success.

"Chelsea have been successful because of Jose Mourinho, the players he has signed and the financial backing he's had to do that.

"I feel excited for the people I know at Chelsea. I know the excitement and buzz that will be around the place."


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