When considering the many top-class talents to have graced Stamford Bridge since Roman Abramovich became Chelsea’s ludicrously rich owner in 2003, Florent Malouda probably isn’t a name that instantly comes to mind.
A quality player for sure, but one that seemingly pales in comparison to the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. Even excepting club legends, players like Deco, Juliano Belletti, Arjen Roben and Hernan Crespo stand head and shoulders ahead of the France international.
Yet, 2009/10 was arguably the greatest campaign of the Abramovich era, ending in a Premier League and FA Cup double. Of course, Carlo Ancelotti is by no means the first or the last manager to add silverware to the Russian’s trophy cabinet – countryman Antonio Conte has done so this season – but the real difference was how Chelsea won it, adopting the adventurous, attacking style of football Abramovich has always craved.
The pragmatic Jose Mourinho refused to share that ideal and Conte’s approach can be described as balanced at best, whereas Phil Scolari, Andre-Villas Boas and Roberto Di Matteo implemented attacking football their own detriment. Consequently, Ancelotti is the only Chelsea manager hired by Abramovich to date who has found the balance between scintillating and successful football, and even he could only keep it in place during one incredible season. The Blues still hold the record for the most goals in a Premier League season, a staggering 103, and goal difference at +71.
Of course, the usual suspects all played their part as Ancelotti revelled in a squad about as vast and varied as it gets. Even a young Daniel Sturridge chipped in with five goals, whilst pre-Benfica Nemanja Matic, now-Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt and Sunderland’s Fabio Borini all featured in the Premier League from the bench.
But the Players’ Player of the Year award that season didn’t go to Lampard or Drogba, who netted a whopping 64 goals between them, Terry, Cech or any of the old guard. Indeed, Florent Malouda was the pick of his team-mates and rightly so. He finished the campaign with 15 goals and 15 assists to his name – a significant improvement from the season previous, where he’d racked up nine apiece.
Perhaps that return doesn’t seem so incredible for a left winger in a team designed to win games by enormous margins, that season claiming eight league victories by four goals or more and eleven across all competitions.
But Malouda was never a flashy player in the conventional sense of delicate turns and intricate goals; even his many impressive long-range goals for the Blues were more clinical than stylish, calmly and accurately rolling in off the woodwork.
It was hard graft and industry that moved him from the fringes of Chelsea’s first team to the beating heart of the starting XI in time for 2009/10 after arriving from Lyon two years earlier, and he actually ended the campaign more as part of the engine room alongside Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard than the attack.
Indeed, Malouda was not only Chelsea’s third top scorer and third top provider that season, but also boasted the fourth-most tackles per match and the most interceptions per match of any player in the division to make more than ten appearances on the left wing. It was that all-round game, combined with the fact Malouda simply had his shooting boots on that season, which made him such an integral cog in Chelsea’s 2009/10 side.
The next season, Malouda continued to hold up his end of the bargain, producing 13 goals and four assists in the Premier League, but certain team-mates did not. He actually ended up as Chelsea’s top scorer that term, whilst Lampard and Drogba could only produce 26 across all competitions – less than half of the year previous. Ancelotti lost his job to Villas-Boas in the summer, an appointment that proved to be the start of Malouda’s demise.
The following domestic campaign was Malouda’s least productive since turning out for Guingamp in 2000/01, although it ended in the greatest honour of his career – a Champions League title after coming on from the bench in the final.
After refusing a number of opportunities to leave the club in summer 2012, the Frenchman was completely frozen out at Stamford Bridge for the final year of his contract. He wasn’t selected for the registered Premier League squad and was made to train with the U21s. An unspectacular, almost unfair end for a player who had been instrumental in Chelsea’s greatest Premier League campaign and present for their biggest trophy scalp under Abramovich.
Today, Malouda celebrates his 37th Birthday, and you have to wonder how he’ll be remembered by not only Chelsea fans but the beautiful game in general; likely a talented player and a successful player, but probably not in the way a Premier League title winner, a Champions League winner and an 80-cap international should. Ever-underrated and overlooked, there could be no better fitting present than a bigger and more accurate share in the annals of Chelsea history.