‘Makelele leaves Chelsea for PSG’.
Back in 2003, buoyed by Roman Abramovich’s billions, Blues’ manager Claudio Ranieri went on a pioneering spending spree which saw tabloid dreams turned into reality. In came Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Adrian Mutu, Hernan Crespo, Wayne Bridge. Big, big names! But tucked in amongst these superstars and show ponies was the Congolese-born midfielder Claude Makelele.
Arriving from Real Madrid for £16.8m (just over the price of about three Steve Sidwell’s in today’s transfer market), eyebrows were raised at the time. That much for a defensive midfielder? Do we even need a defensive midfielder?
Five years later, he departs Stamford Bridge as an icon, a megastar, and much more than just a defensive midfielder.
Acting as a sometimes impregnable shield in front of the back four, Makelele was told to protect and mop-up, nothing more, nothing less. He performed his duties so well, the position has virtually been renamed to acknowledge his efforts.
But a player doing his job is nothing special is it? ‘Keepers and defenders stop goals, strikers score goals, and they do so for every team in the world. No big deal. But with Makelele, it was the little things (no pun intended) which made him great.
The fact that in 217 appearances, he bagged a grand total of two goals, one lucky rebound from probably the worst penalty I’ve ever seen (Anelka’s included) against Charlton Athletic, and probably the best volley I’ve ever seen against Tottenham Hotspur.
The fact that if he ever felt overwhelmed during a game, perhaps the opposition were countering in numbers while his own team-mates were caught up-field, Makelele thought nothing of leaving a tiny leg out and stopping the attack immediately. The fact that he never seemed to get booked for these blatant fouls because referees would almost melt at the sight of his innocent schoolboy grin. The fact that after Eduardo had his leg broken by Martin Taylor, a journalist ignored the leg-breaking tackles and claimed that Makelele’s challenges were the most dangerous in the game.
The fact that he spent so long as an unsung hero, until everyone called him unsung, making him, well, sung.
The fact that despite his passing over anything like five yards bordering on atrocious, his heading non-existent, and the aforementioned shooting problem a running joke, we all ignored these factors anyway.
We ignored them because the rest of his game was impeccable. We appreciated what he was perfect at, but now with his impending move to the Paris giants, we won’t have a chance to enjoy it anymore.
So while we welcome midfielder Deco to the club, with talk of Kaka and Robinho joining him at the Bridge, it will be impossible to replace the irreplaceable Makelele.
Cheers Maka, from everyone at CFCnet.