Jesper Gronkjaer is actually the most important player in the history of Chelsea Football Club. Discuss (25 marks).
Okay, the Blues have their fair share of modern legends: the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba.
This was only made possible with a result against Liverpool in 2003
But without one man, Terry never would’ve lifted the Premier League trophy five times, Lampard wouldn’t have broken the club’s all-time goalscoring record, and Drogba wouldn’t have been the hero in the 2012 Champions League final.
That man is Gronkjaer, the Danish winger who bagged the winner in Chelsea’s 2003 victory over Liverpool, in a game dubbed the ‘£20million match’.
After Marcel Desailly cancelled out Sami Hyppia’s early strike, Gronkjaer cut inside and sent a left-footed shot fizzing into the bottom corner to win the game in the 26th minute.
It meant Chelsea stayed above their opponents in fourth place on the final day, securing a berth in the 2003/04 Champions League campaign.
Thing is, £20m is a gross understatement. It was worth so much more than that.
Gronkjaer wheels away in celebration after ensuring Champions League football for Chelsea
It’s hard to believe it now, but Chelsea were facing financial oblivion at the time.
The club’s chief executive Trevor Birch actually addressed the team in the changing room to spell out the danger of losing the match.
Costs would’ve been dramatically cut, and the decade of success which followed would never have existed.
Rather than blossoming into the most successful Premier League club of the last 17 years, Chelsea could’ve easily followed the same path as Leeds and fallen into obscurity.
But they didn’t – because Roman Abramovich decided to buy the Blues for £140m just weeks after Gronkjaer’s strike.
It’s incredibly unlikely the Russian businessman would’ve invested in Chelsea without European football, given it became his sole drive and purpose at the club thereafter.
Abrahamovich bought Chelsea in 2003 – and the rest is history
Suddenly, not only were the Blues saved from going to the wall, the club launched an unprecedented spending spree that heralded an era of success to rival the biggest clubs in England and Europe.
Abramovich bought a whole new team within weeks of taking over, as the likes of Joe Cole, Damian Duff, and Claude Makelele sparked the beginning of a revolution at Stamford Bridge.
Ironically, Gronkjaer’s goal ended his own Chelsea career, with the new arrivals quickly ousting him from the starting XI.
But the Dane still looks back on it with fondness. He said in 2011: “I remember the goal very well. I was on the right wing when we got a throw-in, but instead of passing I cut in from the right and beat three or four defenders before sticking it in the other corner.
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“It was a nice feeling, and a good reward for a great season.”
Gronkjaer was one of those hit-and-miss type of players: exceptional when something came off, but there was always a 50 per cent chance it wouldn’t.
Most games, he receives that throw, darts outside John Arne Riise, and overhits a cross. That was his specialty.
How different would English football’s history look if he decided not to cut inside that day?