In July 2002, the mercurial and talented midfielder Sam Dalla Bona left Chelsea under a cloud. His refusal to sign a contract extension had angered Chelsea, as their statement at the time confirms.”In view of the fact that Sam Dalla Bona has refused to sign an extension to his current contract, stating that he wants to be near his family in Italy, he has now played his last game for Chelsea. He has officially been placed on the transfer list… Chelsea Football Club are somewhat puzzled by Sam’s attitude as we agreed a transfer to Venezia last summer, a club that is very near his family home, which he has made clear is important to him. So we are at a loss to understand why he turned that down but is willing to go to a club in Milan or Rome, a long distance from his family.”

Ouch. No bitterness there, then.

Sam was a product of the Atalanta youth system – one of several players that Chelsea signed from the Italian club in the Vialli – Ranieri years. He was the only one to make a real impact, scoring 6 goals in 73 appearances for the Blues. The one I’m sure we all remember was the spectacular 30-yarder against Ipswich, deciding a humdrum game that had threatened to descend into a stalemate. For that alone, we salute him. But, despite a strong season in 2001-02, interest from Milan was too much of a temptation. Despite a fiercely competitive midfield at the rossonieri, Sam left to test his mettle amongst Serie A’s finest. We’d love to say that this was a fairytale return to Italy for a young man who had captained his country at every level up to Under-21. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. Sam was unable to make an impact on a team featuring the young Pirlo and Gattuso, and with the experience of Seedorf. A miserable season with only 10 appearances, 6 from the bench, culminated in a loan move to Bologna and then sale to Lecce, followed by a further move to Sampdoria last July. He’s been an intermittent feature of the Sampdoria team, with 14 starts in Serie A and a further 4 in the Coppa Italia. Not quite the promised land he might have hoped for.

Just thinking about Sam takes me back to an era that, in these heady days of unlimited expenditure and back-toback titles, already seems a long way off. Remember the frightening season that Eidur and Jimmy had together? Remember Stanic and Petit? And this was less than 5 years ago. What a difference a new owner makes.

Sam first scored for the Blues at Everton in November 2000, with what was to become a trademark fizzer from outside the penalty area. I’m surprised more comparison hasn’t been made with Frank Lampard in recent years: both have a laconic, loping sort of stride on the pitch, and both favour hitting the ball from long range. Fortunately for us, Lampard’s much less likely to go missing when things are tough on the pitch. Sam’s relaxed approach could frustrate. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised us: he learned his trade in the slower Italian game. I thought him symptomatic of the attitude under Luca, and carried over into Claudio’s time. We were a cup team – ironically, the very mentality that seems to elude us now – and Sam a cup player: elegant, capable of moments of real class, but ultimately not a title challenger. That’s not to say that we had no affection for him: there are many who still hanker after those days. The sort of side that could thump United one week, and be ground down and beaten by Sunderland the next. Thinking back to the perverse glamour and the inimitable charm of the great Vialli, it’s easy to feel nostalgic.

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