The curse of the Chelsea No.9: From Crespo to Torres, Morata to Lukaku
The No.9 shirt has proved a weight on the shoulders of strikers at Stamford Bridge
So many of the greatest strikers in world football have worn the No.9 shirt for club and country – from Alan Shearer to Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta to Robert Lewandowski.
At Chelsea, however, the No.9 seems to carry a curse.
So which players have worn the shirt and how bad has it really been?
The early Premier League years (1992-2000)
The first player to wear the No.9 in the Premier League era for Chelsea was Tony Cascarino, between 1992-1994. He set the unfortunate precedent for players in that number at Stamford Bridge, with six league goals across two seasons.
However the following two players enjoyed rather more success in the No.9 – Mark Stein wore it between 1994-1996, knocking in a respectable 25 goals across 63 games in Chelsea blue. This was when they were a mid-table side in the pre-Roman Abramovich era, remember.
Stein was followed by Gianluca Vialli, who achieved legend status at Chelsea in his time as the No.9 from 1996-1999. He won the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup – before becoming manager in 1998.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (2000-04)
Before the stinkers, let us salute a Chelsea great and arguably the greatest No.9 for the club in the Premier League era.
A club record signing for £15 million from Atletico Madrid, Hasselbaink scored on his debut, bagged 26 goals in his first Blues season, and 29 in 2001-02.
His goal tally fell slightly in his final two Stamford Bridge campaigns, but he formed a key part of the final pre-Abramovich era team, before being sold to Middlesbrough in 2004.
Mateja Kezman (2004-05)
The 2004-05 season was historic for Chelsea fans, as they swept to the Premier League title under Jose Mourinho, on the back of several star signings.
However, for every Frank Lampard, there was a Kezman. The Serbian arrived with a big reputation from his time at PSV, but scored just four goals in 25 games and was sold on to Atletico Madrid at season’s end.
Hernan Crespo (2005-06)
The veteran Argentine took the vacant No.9 after Kezman left – and despite modern talk of Crespo being an underwhelming Chelsea player, was actually integral in their second-straight league crown.
Crespo scored 13 goals in all competitions – however he and his family never settled in England, which meant Blues fans never saw him at his peak.
He was loaned to Inter the following season and saw out his Chelsea contract in Italy.
Khalid Boulahrouz (2006-2007)
Unquestionably the strangest and most forgettable incumbent of the No.9 shirt at Chelsea was this Dutch central defender. Yep, a centre-back wore THE shirt of a centre forward.
Boulahrouz was signed from Hamburg in summer 2006 and after Crespo had left, took one of the few free first-team shirt numbers available.
Injuries and loss of form meant he rarely got the chance to display the No.9 on the field of play, and he was sold after one season.
Steve Sidwell (2007-08)
The curse of the Chelsea No .9 was now firmly established – whether underwhelming signings or players who simply were not good enough, it did not even have to be worn by a striker any more.
Sidwell fit all three of those categories. The central midfielder joined from Reading on a free after an impressive campaign for a newly-promoted side, but Chelsea was too much of a step up.
He did make 25 appearances that season before being sold, thus continuing another No.9 trend at Chelsea – players lasting just one season.
Franco di Santo (2008-09)
The best thing to be said about Di Santo’s year as Chelsea No.9 is that at least the number was back with a striker again.
The young Argentine was never experienced or talented enough to lift the curse, or the one season time limit as he left on loan for Blackburn in 2009-10 before moving to Wigan permanently after that.
He played eight Premier League games and scored no goals for Chelsea.
Fernando Torres (2011-14)
From Di Santo’s departure until January 2011, Chelsea did not have a registered No.9 – but the man who took the jersey was expected to break the curse once and for all.
Torres joined from Liverpool for a then-British-record £50 million amid much fanfare, but his move is now regarded as one of the great flops in Premier League history.
High points such as the goal which sealed Chelsea’s place in the 2012 Champions League final are balanced out by going 903 minutes without scoring after first joining, or his abysmal open goal miss against Manchester United in September 2011.
Radamel Falcao (2015-16)
After not having a No.9 for 2014-15, Chelsea signed Falcao despite him having struggled on loan at Manchester United in the previous campaign.
The Colombian was not able to reverse his Premier League fortunes at Stamford Bridge, scoring only one goal in 10 matches.
The 29-year-old was shown the door in the summer of 2016, returning to Monaco.
Alvaro Morata (2017-18)
Chelsea again went without a No.9 in 2016-17, before attempting to remedy their striker woes with another big-money Spanish signing.
However Morata, who cost £70 million and signed a five-year deal, never fully impressed at Chelsea and was allowed to leave on loan after just 18 months.
He returned for the 2019-20 season, but then wore the No.29 as he attempted to escape the cursed jersey.
Gonzalo Higuain (2019)
A star for Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus, and a World Cup finalist for Argentina, Higuain is still one of the most forgettable Chelsea No.9s.
He spent six months on loan at Chelsea from January 2019, after Morata was allowed to leave, but never adjusted to the pace of the Premier League as he often appeared unfit.
Five goals in 18 matches was an underwhelming return, and he went back to Italy at the end of the season.
Tammy Abraham (2019-21)
After impressing on loan at Aston Villa – and with Chelsea under a transfer embargo – new manager Frank Lampard put his trust in academy product Abraham as his No.9 ahead of 2019-20.
The Englishman impressed under Lampard, with 18 goals in 47 games that season as Chelsea qualified for the Champions League.
The following campaign, however, saw a loss of form – only 12 goals all season – an ankle injury and the arrival of Thomas Tuchel as manager.
Abraham was sold to Roma in summer 2021 and has hugely impressed in Serie A. As far as Chelsea No.9s go, he was among the better ones.
Romelu Lukaku (2021-22)
Abraham was largely sold due to the return of Lukaku, who at £97.5m was a club-record signing and viewed as a huge statement by the Champions League winners.
Eight goals in 26 Premier League games later, it is still hard to fathom just how badly wrong things have gone. Injuries, loss of form, lack of interest, ill-advised media interviews – all have been blamed for Lukaku’s lacklustre return to England.
He has now completed a return to Inter, as the Chelsea No.9 curse remains fully intact.