Claude Makelele has revealed that Manchester United wanted his signature before his 2003 exit from Real Madrid, but he had already promised Chelsea that he would move to Stamford Bridge.
The ball-winning midfielder joined the Blues at the end of the 2002/03 campaign after a successful spell in Spain, but he explains in the new issue of FourFourTwo magazine that he had several options open to him.
“I went to Chelsea because they came in first,” he says in the December 2020 issue.
“After that, several other teams approached me, including Manchester United and Inter, who had tried to sign me before I moved to Real.
“Due to the way things were happening at Madrid, I told Chelsea, 'If I go, I’ll come to you.' I gave them a promise. They went to great lengths to sign me, as I was 30 by then but they still paid a significant transfer fee [£16.8 million].”
Claudio Ranieri was in charge when the France international arrived in London, and Jose Mourinho was appointed the following season after the Italian was sacked.
Makelele played a key role for Mourinho’s side, helping them win two Premier League titles and the FA Cup during his five-year spell at Stamford Bridge.
But the Blues couldn’t clinch the Champions League title during his time there, falling at the semi-final stage three times before losing on penalties to Manchester United in the 2008 final.
“It’s not my biggest regret, because I’d already won the Champions League with Real Madrid,” Makelele explains.
“I don’t know whether that Chelsea side was the best team never to win it, but we did brilliantly in that competition. In my five seasons at Chelsea, we reached the semi-finals four times, including one final in 2008.
“Not many clubs manage that, and a lot of them spend billions trying to win it. Chelsea created that team very quickly and, as well as coming extremely close in the Champions League, we won all of the domestic honours in the space of a few years.
“Normally it takes time for a team to establish a spirit like we did. I remember us playing cards while we were together preparing for games, just to relax and have a laugh. It made for a good ambience within the squad. No club in the world wanted to play us in that period.”
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