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Chelsea’s false 9s

On Sunday, Chelsea’s new loan signing Gonzalo Higuaín is likely to make his debut in the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Sheffield Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

The Argentinian striker will wear the number 9, becoming the 14th do so, making it the most-used shirt in Premier League history and allowing us to revisit this piece, first written in 2014.

It has come to be regarded as something of an unlucky charm, though it wasn’t always cast in such a light. Tony Cascarino and Mark Stein weren’t perfect but they were still average-to-good strikers and Gianluca Vialli, who took the shirt when he arrived in 1996, was a clear upgrade.

Chris Sutton’s sole season as Chelsea’s number 9 was largely forgettable – though it still ended with an FA Cup win – while his replacement, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, is the second-last number 9 to win the Premier League Golden Boot (see the bottom of this article to find out the other).

However, since Roman Abramovich bought the club at the start of the 2003-04 season, the number hasn’t enjoyed a great status. The Chelsea 9s just don’t get enough goals.


Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (2003-04)

Abramovich’s first season would prove to be Hasselbanink’s last in blue before joining Middlesbrough. While not complete duff, he wasn’t the force that he once was and a haul of 17 goals in 44 matches in all competitions was a poor return, especially considering that Chelsea came second in the league and reached the Champions League semi-finals. Ratio: 0.39 goals per game


Mateja Kezman (2004-05)

The Serbian arrived at Stamford Bridge having scored 105 goals in 122 games for PSV Eindhoven and the inheritance of Hasselbaink’s shirt seemed a perfect fit. Seven goals in 41 appearances for Chelsea suggested otherwise. Moved to Atletico Madrid, where he got eight in 30. Ratio: 0.17


Hernan Crespo (2005-06)

Crespo spent 2004-05 on loan at Milan, almost winning a Champions League medal, but he was back at Bridge for 05-06 and his swapping of number 21 for 9 seemed to be a statement of intent. While he got the winner away to Wigan on the opening day of the league season, he didn’t effect a turnaround in his Chelsea career and finished the campaign with 13 goals in 42 games before joining Inter. Ratio: 0.31


Khalid Boulahrouz (2006-07)

Chelsea’s new number 9 was really a number 2, number 3 or number 5. Khalid Boulahrouz, signed from Hamburg, was a dirty bastard of a defender and, not surprisingly, didn’t score in his 20 games with the club before joining Seville. Still, not much worse than Kezman. Ratio: 0


Steve Sidwell (2007-08)

Another non-striker in the shirt and again, worn for just one season. Sidwell arrived on a free from Reading and then joined Aston Villa, scoring once in 25 games. Ratio: 0.04


Franco di Santo (2008-09)

A striker, but never a first-choice player. Still a teenager when he signed, he had scored 13 in 55 for Chilean side Audax Italiano. Originally given 36 in the 2008 pre-season, he was subsequently assigned 9. Mainly used as a sub in his 16 Chelsea appearances, failing to find the net. Joined Blackburn on loan for 2009-10 and then inked a permanent move to Wigan. Ratio: 0


Fernando Torres (2011-14)

Chelsea didn’t allocate a number 9 at the start of the 2009-10 or 2010-11 seasons, allowing Torres to take it when he joined for £50m in January 2011. While he brought Gary Neville much joy in the Camp Nou, he couldn’t rediscover the form which made him such a hot property at Liverpool.

He joined Milan on loan for the next two seasons and then returned to his beloved Atletico Madrid. For Chelsea, he scored 45 goals in 172 matches. Ratio: 0.26


Radamel Falcao (2015-16)

The Colombian’s two seasons in England seem rather like a dream from this remove, and they stick out glaringly on his CV.

His total career strike-rate is 0.58 goals per game, but he scored just five in 41 games across two season-long loans, for Manchester United in 2014-15 and Chelsea in the following campaign (one goal in 12 outings for the Blues). On returning to Monaco, he scored 30 goals in 2016-17, 24 last season and has seven in the current campaign, despite the club’s woes. Ratio: 0.12

Álvaro Morata (2017-18)

After a season lying idle, 9 seemed like a perfect for the Spaniard, but he struggled, scoring 15 times in 48 games.

The birth of twins on July 29, 2018 was the inspiration for him committing the most heinous of crimes and switching to a higher number, but 29 hasn’t suited him either and he’s set to join Atletico on loan after just nine goals in 24 games in this campaign. Ratio wearing number 9: 0.31.

That means that, in the Abramovich era, the players wearing number 9 have 409 appearances between them but just 100 goals, an average of 0.24. Higuaín has a low bar to clear.

  • Dimitar Berbatov is the last 9 to win the Golden Boot, doing so in 2010-11.
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1 Comment

  1. Nik Yeomans
    October 3, 2017 at 10:36 — Reply

    Luckily for Chris Sutton he missed out on this article being the striker before Hasselbaink. UNLUCKILY, however, I have not forgotten his paltry 3 goals in 39 games giving an unimpressive ratio of 0.08 (with rounding up). Since this article was written there was also the great Radamel Falcao (great outside of the Premier League that is), 1 goal in 12, making a ration of 0.08 again. Hopefully Alvaro Morata (currently on 7 in 9, that’s 0.78) is bucking the trend.

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Chelsea’s false 9s