All week we will be looking back at three players from England's top clubs whom the fans have loved to hate, and those whom they wish had never left. Then one from a rival club whom they hate to say they love. Phil Lythell delves into Chelsea's recent past.
Love To Hate - William Gallas
There are not too many candidates for this position given that Chelsea fans are generally pretty fair to former players. There are exceptions, of course, such as Gordan Durie whose nickname "Jukebox" rapidly morphed into the more accusatory "Judas" after he sought and then secured a move to hated crosstown rivals Tottenham. Gus Poyet then became persona non grata for many after he fatefully kissed the badge on his Spurs shirt when his new club beat his old one 5-1 in the semifinal of the 2002 League Cup. Personally, though, for his deeds in a Chelsea shirt he deserves to be cut a bit of slack for what was no more than a moment of stupidity.
William Gallas, though, was more calculating then either of those two. While Durie might have wanted to leave the club, at least at the time Tottenham were enjoying far more success than the Blues. Professional progression could be cited as a legitimate, if painful, excuse. Gallas, on the other hand, chose to force through a move to Arsenal at a time when Chelsea had just won their second consecutive Premier League title. Quite simply, it beggared belief.
To rub salt into the wounds, it emerged that he had threatened to score an own goal if Chelsea forced him to stay and honour his contract. While Gallas denied these accusations, they certainly seemed to mesh with a character whose only public utterances throughout his Chelsea career had been negative and unsettling. The breakdown in the relationship between player and club was even more frustrating considering just how good a player he was. In fact, many Blues fans, casting grudges aside, would still name him in their all-time best Chelsea eleven.
Thankfully, Chelsea received a certain Ashley Cole as part of the deal that took him to North London so it worked out pretty well in the end. And the fact that Gallas never won a major trophy again after leaving Stamford Bridge just adds to the schadenfreude.
Love To Love - Juan Mata
Given the unprecedented period of success that Chelsea have enjoyed over the past 10 years, there are a wealth of players to choose from. Frank Lampard would top the list while Michael Ballack and Michael Essien would come pretty close, but in this instance perhaps it would be best to pick somebody who is currently a direct opponent and with that in mind it is difficult to look past Juan Mata.
The little Spaniard breaks the mould of football players in that he is intelligent, articulate and without possessing an ego that needs to be stroked by all and sundry. Allied to his wondrous vision, exquisite touch and eye for goal and you have the dictionary definition of a crowd favourite. Named by the fans as the club's player of the year in each of the two full seasons he was at Chelsea, all while collecting winners medals in the Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League, it therefore came as a huge shock when it became clear that he was to be sold to rivals Manchester United in January this year.
While most supporters have eventually grown to accept manager Jose Mourinho's wisdom behind the decision, there remain some still aghast that Mata now plays for the Red Devils. Such is the regard in which he is held that Chelsea fans were criticising former Man United boss David Moyes on social media last season for not playing him in his favoured central position despite the fact that he was playing for a rival. Mata is yet to face his former employers at Stamford Bridge and that will provide the litmus test as to where the fans' affections truly lie. But even though he still looks very odd in a red shirt, it would be a major surprise if Mata was given anything less than a warm reception. Unless, of course, he does a Poyet and kisses the badge.
Hate To Love - Raheem Sterling
Not sure if you have noticed but a rather intense rivalry has developed between Chelsea and Liverpool over the past ten years or so. Sparked by the antipathy between Mourinho and former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, enhanced by those laughable taunts about history from the Merseysiders and galvanised by the fact that each club expounds a diametrically opposing philosophy, the enmity is very real. That Chelsea helped scupper Liverpool's chances of winning the Premier League last season was greeted with only marginally less glee by their supporters than if the Blues had lifted the title themselves.
Yet among their ranks lies a player that even most hardened Chelsea fans must enjoy watching. Raheem Sterling plays with the innocent enthusiasm of a player as yet unburdened by years of failure and missed opportunities. His meteoric rise from the Liverpool youth team to England starter has been impressive to say the least and at only 19 years old the sky appears to be the limit.
Sterling benefits from having a manager in Brendan Rodgers who allows him to express himself without being encumbered by too much defensive responsibility and it would interesting to see how he would fare under the hand of Mourinho for whom even Eden Hazard is required to muck in. Talent-wise, however, he would fit right in at Stamford Bridge, though one suspects that Liverpool would rather sell Anfield than lose one of their youth products to Chelsea.