By Godwin Aikigbe
Ex Chelsea left-back, Celestine Babayaro, recalled how his former Nigeria team-mate, Nwankwo Kanu scored a hat-trick for Arsenal who came from two goals to win 3-2 in a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge.
The former Anderlecht star that joined Chelsea as a teenager after winning Olympic football gold in 1996 and was part of their trophy success in 1998 and 2000, relayed his experiences at Stamford Bridge in a statement published on Chelsea’s official website on Monday.
“They were all difficult games in the Premier League but it was especially a big game if I was going to play against my mate Kanu at Arsenal. I did not want to lose and I was gutted when he scored the three goals against us at Stamford Bridge! We were 2-0 up and I thought we had won and suddenly he was doing these tricks against us that I had never seen before,” Babayaro said when asked if there were any opposition teams or players he particularly disliked facing.
“I signed( for Chelsea) following the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Nigeria won the gold medal and I got back to Belgium and the president of the club I was at, Anderlecht, told me about the interest from Chelsea and that is how I moved over to Chelsea in the summer of 1997, just after they had won the FA Cup.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision at all. While I was at Anderlecht we watched the Premier League and I knew Ruud Gullit was the manager and Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo were here. Guys I looked up to. When I heard about Chelsea wanting me there was no hesitation at all. I had to jump on it.
“On my way here I was excited anyway and I saw another level from Anderlecht. It was the same people I had seen on telly and it was a step ahead of what I was used to and it was an amazing experience. Even though the training ground was not great, when there were Gullit, Zola, Vialli there, the pitch was not really what I was looking at, I was looking at the superstars.
“Stamford Bridge was exciting, I remember the first time I ran out there was amazing, with the crowd singing your name. It was an experience you can never forget. It took a while for me to make my debut as I had broken my fifth metatarsal. There were rumours I did it back-flipping but I didn’t. It was in a training session in a one-v-one challenge.
“At Stamford Bridge the fans were always amazing, and whenever they saw you on the Fulham Road or King’s Road they would grab autographs and take pictures. I can remember going to play at Manchester United and that was a game I always looked forward to playing in.
“Ruud Gullit had an influence because he was the manager who signed me and he was someone I had looked up to when he was one of the three Dutch masters with Van Basten and Rijkaard. When I saw him in person, I was like wow!
“I played in the FA Cup final when we beat Aston Villa and the Super Cup against Real Madrid when Gustavo scored and it was 1-0. I did enjoy that one. In the Champions League I scored against Feyenoord when someone crossed and I did a diving header. That was a great goal and I did do a back flip that time so I liked that one.
“When I first arrived I was close to Roberto Di Matteo, he showed where to go, restaurants to eat in, and I was pretty close to Gianfranco. I went to his house to have dinner which is why every time I see him I say to him to say hello to his wife for me. I still stay in touch with most of my team-mates – Wisey, Gus – and I saw them all again at that Legends game against Inter Milan.
“I would not change anything at all. I enjoyed my time at Chelsea and I am no.1 Chelsea fan. I honestly do not miss any game. Even if I am not there live I am watching on telly.
“Chelsea have been brilliant this season. I love it so far and I love Maurizio Sarri, his ways are amazing. You saw the kind of football he played at Napoli and I think he is bringing the same here and you can see in the games so far that Chelsea are different class.”
Now 40, Babayaro scored five times in 132 appearances for Chelsea between 1997 and 2005 before joining Newcastle in 2005, finding the back of the net just once in 47 matches. He joined Los Angeles Galaxy 2008, but didn’t feature in a game for the MLS side due to an injury that ended his career prematurely.
Babayaro was capped 27 times by Nigeria between 1995 and 2004.