Chelsea stars take the international stage

Posted by Phil Lythell

Adrian Dennis/AFP/GettyImagesJohn Terry and Ashley Cole have both played key roles for England.

The qualification for the FIFA World Cup is entering its final throes, and Chelsea players can currently be found scattered around the globe either basking in the glow of an already successful campaign, nervously biting their fingernails with their country’s fate as yet undecided or playing for the pride of a nation destined to be watching events in Brazil on television.

But it was not always thus. Chelsea's relationship with international football has changed beyond all recognition in the 30-plus years this blogger has been following the club, with members of the playing squad now expected to be playing on the international stage whereas before it was an exception.

There are several reasons for this transformation. The rise in the club’s status from a second-division side playing in front of a crumbling, half-filled stadium to becoming one of the powerhouses of European football has certainly played a crucial part in attracting the world’s best to south-west London. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent fracturing of the Eastern Bloc created a wealth of new countries, exposing more players to the international game, as well as giving them the freedom to move to foreign climes in pursuit of personal fulfillment and enrichment.

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In a similar vein, the leap in quality in some of football’s developing regions -- most notably Africa -- has ensured that many of their stars have come to England. Additionally, the Premier League’s aggressive pursuit of globalisation has seen these shores welcome the teeming masses of foreign football stars all eager to fight for the big trophies while pocketing large swaths of TV money in the process.

Prior to this shift in the landscape of English football and Chelsea’s position within it, the Blues always supplied a steady trickle of players to the home nations, some of whom became some of the most famous names of their time. George "Gatling Gun" Hilsdon was the first Chelsea player to net 100 goals for the club during his career in the early part of the 20th century, and he also represented England with distinction by netting an improbable 14 times during his eight caps.

North of the border, Hughie Gallacher spent four productive years at Stamford Bridge in the 1930s and remains third on Scotland’s all-time list of goalscorers. Also third in their nation’s scoring list is Jimmy Greaves, who found the back of the net an astonishing 44 times for England in a mere 55 games, a rate he matched at domestic level and which has led many to label him as the greatest English striker in history. Greaves left Chelsea when he was just 21, though he still managed to score a staggering 132 goals in his time at the club.

As the decades progressed, the amount of Blues representing England decreased, with just a few rays of light connecting Stamford Bridge with Wembley. Kerry Dixon won criminally few caps in the 1980s with then England manager Bobby Robson strangely opting to select Mark Hateley ahead of him on the occasions that a more physical presence was needed to partner Gary Lineker up front.

Goalkeeper David Beasant and left back Tony Dorigo were decent players but not good enough to dislodge Peter Shilton and Stuart Pearce, respectively, though they did both play in the third-place playoff in the 1990 World Cup with Dorigo supplying the cross from which David Platt scored in the 2-1 loss to Italy.

Dennis Wise and Graeme Le Saux both wore the Three Lions on their chest to differing degrees of success as the new millennium was born, but in the time since then, Chelsea players have formed the foundations for the national team over the past 10 years.

The Blues can boast two England centurions in Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, while John Terry was the inspirational leader of his country on 34 occasions when not mired in controversy. Also in that time Joe Cole played star turns for both club and country with Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wayne Bridge both making their fair share of appearances. Of all those, only Terry can claim to be a product of the club’s academy, though all either made their reputation or significantly strengthened it during their time at Stamford Bridge.

More recently, Daniel Sturridge won his first caps while still on Chelsea's books and Gary Cahill is now a fixed part of Roy Hodgson's first-choice team. Barring injury, the duo will both be on the field when England face Poland on Tuesday night as they bid to join Germany, Holland, Argentina and the rest on the plane to Rio. Should the worst happen and England fluff their lines at Wembley and then again in the playoffs, Chelsea fans can console themselves by knowing that at least there will be plenty of other familiar faces on show in Brazil.

Romelu Lukaku’s brace in Croatia ensured Belgium will be at their first World Cup since 2002. The striker will be aiming to line up alongside club mates Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois at the sport's global showpiece next summer. Andre Schurrle got on the scoresheet for Germany on Friday and will be hopeful of making Joachim Loew’s squad for the tournament. David Luiz and Oscar are almost certain starters for the hosts and may still be joined by Ramires and Willian in the squad even though both are currently out of favour.

Juan Mata, Petr Cech and a host of others will also be hoping to play a part in Brazil 2014 and it will be fantastic to see so many Blues play on such a vaunted stage. That Chelsea has now become a respected home to the world’s great players could not be further from the reality of 30 years ago -- no longer are televised international tournaments the only way for their fans to see the masters ply their trade.

In the past decade, several of the sport's stars -- from Claude Makelele to Didier Drogba via Arjen Robben and Mata -- have been regular residents of SW6, and that in itself is a fine barometer of Chelsea’s recent success.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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