Jesper Gronkjaer: The winger who scored Chelsea's £1bn goal

The Abramovich era is stuttering but the man who launched it, and who plays against his old club tomorrow, tells Mark Fleming about the early days

Jesper Gronkjaer breaks into a lop-sided smile as he recalls the goal, that £1bn goal. The final game of the 2003-04 season was a straight knockout between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, with the winner gaining the final place in the next season's Champions League. It was dubbed the £20m match, but that was a drop in the ocean compared with what it proved to be worth to Chelsea as within weeks Roman Abramovich had swept in on his white charger to buy the club for £140m. Eight years on, and his outlay is close to £1bn.

Gronkjaer's winner was a curling shot from the edge of the area to make it 2-1 to Chelsea. But had Liverpool won on that spring day, who knows what might have happened? Abramovich would almost certainly have taken his roubles elsewhere, and Chelsea could have suffered a similar fate to Leeds, or possibly worse, as they were facing financial oblivion at the time.

The £1bn strike is apparently a vivid memory for Gronkjaer, almost eight years on. "I remember the goal very well. I was on the right wing when we got a throw-in, but instead of passing I cut in from the right and beat three or four defenders before sticking it in the other corner. It was a nice feeling, and a good reward for a great season," he said, speaking after training with FC Copenhagen in preparation for tomorrow's Champions League tie with Chelsea, a competition the club are once more struggling to qualify for through the league.

The goal has gone down in legend as the most important in the club's history, as it paved the way for the Russian revolution. However, as is so often the case, the truth is a little less romantic than the myth. Chelsea only needed to avoid defeat against Liverpool to guarantee Champions League football, so in fact it was Marcel Desailly's header to equalise Sami Hyypia's opener rather than Gronkjaer's winner which should really be feted as the key moment.

That has not stopped it becoming fixed in the collective memory of supporters, though – and it was a great goal, worthy of its legendary status. The winger, who flitted between being brilliant or useless during his time at Stamford Bridge, skips past John Arne Riise and fires low past Jerzy Dudek in the 26th minute of the match; weeks later Abramovich buys the club. The simplicity of the chain of events is too good to resist.

Chelsea were certainly looking at financial ruin. The club's chief executive Trevor Birch had addressed the team before kick-off to warn them that if they failed to claim the Champions League berth, the club was facing a future of drastic cost-cutting and an end to fat salaries. Gronkjaer remembers: "It was a massive game for Chelsea. We all knew what we were playing for. I remember the stories about our financial situation."

Beating Liverpool put catastrophe on hold, and on 1 July Abramovich slapped his £140m down. Gronkjaer's contribution was lost in a frenzy of spending as a whole new team was bought before the transfer window closed – a chaotic situation that he recalls was very unsettling for the players who were already at the club.

"I was on holiday in Denmark in my summer house when I heard about the takeover. I didn't imagine he (Abramovich) would have so much money and everything would change. No one did," Gronkjaer said.

"I remember on the second day of pre-season Abramovich turned up at the training ground and spoke to us in Russian, with someone translating. There were rumours about everything – new coach, new players, new training ground, new stadium. He wanted us all to calm down. It was a stressful period for everyone, and the players had mixed feelings. Most of the players were worrying about their own situations, would they stay or go?

"We went on pre-season tour and new players were arriving all the time, which was funny. One day Wayne Bridge would arrive and someone would leave, the next day Damien Duff turned up, then Geremi, Joe Cole, Veron. He bought a whole new team in a few weeks."

To add to the surreal nature of that season, Abramovich took to sitting in the dressing room after games, saying nothing, just taking it all in. "I don't know if he could understand but he would just sit there, like one of the boys," Gronkjaer said.

That season ended with Chelsea second in the Premier League, going out in the semi-finals of the Champions League, and the manager Claudio Ranieri getting the sack. Abramovich would probably settle for that right now, with Chelsea languishing in fifth and out of the FA Cup after Saturday's loss to Everton, but then it was deemed a failure, and Jose Mourinho came in in mid-2004.

"It was a difficult season. The manager was under pressure straight away as there were rumours about him leaving. He did very well in keeping it away from the players and keeping the pressure off us," Gronkjaer said. "For Chelsea at that time it was a fantastic season as we finished second in the League, got 80-odd points and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. It was a fantastic season, but we did not win anything."

Gronkjaer left in the summer of 2004, just before Chelsea started winning trophies under Mourinho, but has no regrets at missing out on the glory years. He moved to Birmingham, then Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart before returning to Denmark and FC Copenhagen five years ago, where he has won the Superliga title for the past two seasons.

At 33 he is not as pacy as he was, but he still has enough in his legs to test Ashley Cole tomorrow night in the Parken Stadium, where the Danes secured a 1-1 draw with Barcelona during the group stages.

"I had a bad injury a few years ago and since then I am not as quick. But I am quick and I still try and do the same, score one against one," Gronkjaer said. "Cole is probably the best left-back in the world right now. Obviously his attacking skill catches the eye but defensively he's top class."

FC Copenhagen tackle Chelsea in the middle of their winter break, which runs from the early December to mid-March, so they are likely to be undercooked tomorrow. Gronkjaer fears the worst, particularly with Chelsea having recently signed Fernando Torres, a return to the days of 2003 when throwing money around was the norm in SW6. "It's a disadvantage. Definitely," Gronkjaer said.

"We will not be as ready as Chelsea because we have not played a crucial game since December. We can play very good football but we also know we have to have so much respect for Chelsea because they have so many players who can do just one piece of skill and it finishes off the game."

Much as Gronkjaer's piece of individual skill finished off that "£1bn" game? Well, up to a point. He didn't quite beat "three or four defenders" as he remembers – he beat Riise in fact. But it was still an important strike. Just ask the Chelsea fans.



Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit