The Curse of the Number 9 at Chelsea

Manchester City v Chelsea: Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Manchester City v Chelsea: Emirates FA Cup Third Round / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

For years, players who have worn the number nine playing for Chelsea have failed to live up to expectations and underperformed. Hence, the idea of the number nine being cursed, and there is plenty of evidence to back it up. 

Five days before the start of the Premier League season, Chelsea F.C. decided to release their squad numbers for the upcoming campaign. A notable number that wasn’t listed was the number nine, a popular number in soccer, especially for attacking players. One would think that maybe one of Chelsea’s current strikers like Nicolas Jackson, Christopher Nkunku, or Armando Broja would take the number since it was up for grabs. 

However, the number hasn’t always been cursed as evidenced by players like Gianluca Vialli and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who wore the number and were prolific strikers during their time in West London. But for the past 20 years players who have worn the number nine have had rather disappointing spells. 

Mateja Kezman

It all started with Mateja Kezman who Chelsea signed from PSV Eindhoven for £5m in 2004. During his time playing in Eredivisie, Kezman was a prolific goal scorer finishing with 105 league goals in 122 appearances. The Blues signed him hoping he could be one of their next great strikes and a replacement for the departing Hasselbaink. 

To say that it didn’t go well for the Serbian striker is putting it kindly, he managed to score only seven goals in 41 appearances across all competitions. He was gone from the club the next year as he departed for Atletico Madrid. 

Hernan Crespo

The next person to wear the ill-fated number would be Argentinian striker Hernan Crespo. The Blues signed Crespo from Inter Milan for a fee of £16.8m. For seven seasons in Serie A, Crespo established himself as one of the better strikers in the league and at that time was ready to make the big jump to the Premier League. 

Although in his first spell he wore the number 21, he came back after being on loan for the 2005-06 season (wore the number 9) and scored a measly 13 goals in 42 appearances. Was he a complete failure? No, but he certainly didn’t perform at the levels that he did when he played in Italy when he played for clubs like Inter Milan, Lazio, and Parma. After Crespo’s departure, it would be some time when the curse of the number nine could be put into full effect. 

Fernando Torres

But in 2011, Chelsea pulled off a significant coup when they signed renowned Liverpool striker Fernando Torres for a record-breaking fee of £50m. At the time the contract was the sixth most expensive in soccer history. 

While playing for Liverpool Torres was considered one of the best strikers in the EPL, with 65 goals in 102 league games, throughout four seasons. Those were the kinds of numbers that Chelsea were expecting Torres would replicate playing for the Blues. Instead in three and a half seasons for CFC the Spaniard finished with just 20 goals in 110 EPL games and 45 goals in 172 total appearances.  

Many reasons can be attributed to why the former Liverpool forward didn’t pan out for the Blues. With a big price tag comes massive expectations, resulting in a lot of pressure. Chelsea during the reign of Roman Abramovich being the club owner was known to be a ruthless team.  

He arrived at Chelsea in the winter midway through the 2010-11 season and was immediately thrust into action, but the problem was he couldn’t find the back of the net. In 18 games he managed to score only one goal. 

Although Torres did have some success at Chelsea, as he was a part of teams that won the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, individually he was not the same player and his impact was not nearly as good as it had been in years past. Eventually, in 2014, Torres was loaned out to AC Milan for two years and never played for Chelsea again. 

Radamel Falcao

The next one would be Radamel Falcao who wore the number during the 2015-16 season. Fresh off a disappointing loan spell at Manchester United where he only scored 4 goals in 26 games, the Blues were hoping that the player they were getting would be something similar to his brilliant play a few years earlier at Atletico Madrid. 

Unfortunately for CFC, Falcao scored only one goal in 12 appearances, which came in a meaningless game against Crystal Palace that Chelsea lost 2-1. Injuries also didn’t help as Falcao suffered a muscular injury in November, and then a thigh injury on December 30th kept him out for some time. Later in the season, once he was fit he lost his place in the squad. 

Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, the Blues are coming off a Premier League title in their first season under manager Antonio Conte. One of the biggest reasons for the Blues miraculous title campaign was the play of Spanish striker Diego Costa, who scored 20 goals in 35 EPL games. 

But once the season was over, Conte infamously texted Costa to tell him that he was “not in my plan” for the future. Instead, Conte pivoted to sign another Spanish striker in this case it would be Alvaro Morata. 

Alvaro Morata

In his most recent season for Real Madrid playing primarily as a backup, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 appearances. The Blues signed the young Spaniard for £60 million, as they were hoping to find their next great striker for the future. In the beginning, things were going well for the new number nine. 

Morata scored six goals in his first six Premier League games, but after that things started to take a nasty turn. From that point on Morata scored only five goals the rest of the season, as Chelsea’s season also began to go out of control finishing sixth in the Premier League after winning the title the season prior, as a result, Conte was fired. 

After Conte’s dismissal, CFC decided to bring in another Italian manager from Serie A Maurizio Sarri. Despite the similarities previously listed, Sarri’s style at Napoli was much more attacking and free-flowing, while Conte was known for having a defensive mindset. 

While Morata pondered a move away from Chelsea over the summer, he decided to stick it out hoping that Sarri would be able to unlock his potential in a system that was supposed to be striker-friendly. Despite scoring five goals in 11 games, he was eventually put on loan to Atletico Madrid during the winter transfer window, and never played for the West London side again. 

Gonzalo Higuain

The man who came in to replace him, and take the number nine was a player in Gonzalo Higuain who was well-renowned as one of the best strikers in the world over the last half-decade. They acquired him on a loan deal from AC Milan during the January transfer window. 

When Sarri was at Napoli, Higuain had the best season of his career scoring 36 goals in 35 Serie A appearances during the 2015-16 season. The Italian manager was hoping to bring some of that magic back for a reunion with the renowned Argentinian. The reunion was not a Hollywood ending as the former Napoli frontman scored only five goals in 14 EPL appearances. His first and only experience playing in England was very forgettable. 

Tammy Abraham

The next person to wear the number was Chelsea academy product Tammy Abraham who many thought had the chance to be around for a long time. His first full season was 2019-20, and that was a very interesting time in CFC history. Frank Lampard, a club legend as a player became the new manager, Eden Hazard left the club after a brilliant spell, and the club had a transfer ban imposed on them and couldn’t sign any new players. 

Abraham had his chance to make his mark on a Chelsea team that was about to embrace a youth movement, and Abraham got plenty of chances. His first season for The Blues got off to a blistering start. In his first 12 Premier League matches the former Aston Villa loanee had nine goals. His best performance was a hat trick against Wolverhampton Wanderers, in a 5-2 win. In doing so, he became the youngest player at 21 years old and 347 days to score three goals for Chelsea in a match in the Premier League era. 

His first full season playing for the Blues was a pretty good one scoring 15 goals in 34 Premier League appearances. But his sophomore campaign was not as successful, After overachieving finishing fourth in the Premier League, and with the transfer ban no longer being enforced Chelsea decided to open up the checkbook to sign striker Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech, and Thiago Silva. 

By January 25, 2021, Lampard was fired by Chelsea and was replaced by Thomas Tuchel who galvanized the club getting them back in the Champions League hunt for the next season and winning the competition that season against fellow Premier League foe Manchester City. 

Once Tuchel came in, Abraham was no longer featured in the squad, and when Romelu Lukaku came to the club the former academy product went to the Serie A club Roma on a five-year contract. 

Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku in his second spell at Chelsea underperformed during the 2021-22 campaign scoring 15 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions. Lukaku went back to the Blues signing for a whopping £97.5 million a club record at the time, took the newly available number nine shirt, and was supposed to be the answer to their striker problems. Since that disastrous return to Stamford Bridge, Lukaku has been put on loan in back-to-back seasons, last year with Inter Milan, and this season with Roma. 

When Lukaku’s time at Chelsea ultimately spiraled out of control, Tuchel decided to replace him with a familiar face whom he coached at Borussia Dortmund Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who was at the time playing for FC Barcelona. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

CFC signed the former Arsenal striker to a two-year deal for a fee of £10.3 million. Signing Aubameyang was a last-ditch effort to salvage a striker problem that was unraveling as Lukaku and Werner both exited from the club. 

The striker from Gabon would prove to be no savior as he scored only three goals in 21 appearances, Tuchel ended up getting fired, Graham Potter who took over dropped Aubameyang from the squad, and once that happened he became nothing but an afterthought. Just another one of the many who donned the number nine shirt and ultimately fell short of expectations. 

Since then no one on the current Chelsea team has decided to wear the shirt number. Current club manager Mauricio Pochettino has said that he is aware of the curse and hopes that it can be broken during his time as CFC manager. “If we bring in one more striker now, I‘m going to be sure that he uses the nine and try to change the feeling and the idea that this number is cursed,” said Pochettino. 

Only time will tell if what he says ends up becoming true, right now Pochettino is worried about getting Chelsea back into the top half of the table.