Babayaro rediscovers appetite away from the 'unbelievable' world of Abramovich

Former Chelsea stalwart tells Simon Williams about the special attraction of Newcastle's FA Cup tie on Sunday

Not for the first time a Russian Revolution is threatening to overthrow the established order, but just as with the rise of Communism, this shift in the balance of power has caused more than a few casualties along the way.

Not for the first time a Russian Revolution is threatening to overthrow the established order, but just as with the rise of Communism, this shift in the balance of power has caused more than a few casualties along the way.

Celestine Babayaro was Chelsea's longest-serving player when the Russian oil billionaire, Roman Abramovich, decided to invest a slice of the considerable personal fortune he had collected in the free market which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and radically alter the Premiership landscape.

After eight years Babayaro thought he had seen it all. At 26, the left-back had played for and outlasted three managers, Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Claudio Ranieri. He saw young players arrive and old favourites leave, part of the natural evolution of a dressing-room. But nothing prepared him for the impact of Abramovich's millions.

"What has happened at Chelsea under Abramovich is like nothing else that has happened before," said the Nigerian international who, after almost a decade in West London, delivers his words with an accent more King's Road than Kaduna, his family home in Nigeria.

"He came out of nowhere. Nobody expected someone like him to take over Chelsea. The amount of money he has invested is unbelievable. So many players came and went, the dressing-room always had different faces in it, everything changed so quickly." Babayaro made 197 appearances for Chelsea following a £2.25m move from Anderlecht in 1997. Significantly, though, only five of those were made during this historic campaign.

Having left Nigeria aged just 15, Babayaro was still only 19 when he moved to Chelsea. He grew up at the club and became a familiar face in a river of new arrivals. But, having survived the cull under Ranieri, the first manager given unlimited access to Abramovich's cheque book, he was not so fortunate under Jose Mourinho.

With little hope of a regular football, and having lost his place in the Nigerian national side, Newcastle were the first to offer him an escape.

"There was no hesitation when I found out Newcastle were interested in me," he said, relaxing on a sofa, after a post-training shopping trip, at his hotel on Newcastle's Quayside.

"I'd been at Chelsea for eight years, but I had five months left on my contract. I could've stayed, the manager told me that. I'd thought about signing a new contract, but I wasn't playing regularly.

"I was the longest-serving player at the club. I'd seen players and managers come and go. I'd played under four different managers and that is not an easy thing to do.

"Every footballer worries when a new manager takes over, because he comes in with his own players. He has new ideas and you worry that you will not be part of those plans. But I was always OK, I always stayed.

"When Jose came I didn't start to think, 'I don't have a future at the club.' I thought it would be the same as it had been - difficult, but if I got my head down and worked hard, I'd stay. When I spoke to Jose he told me I'd get a fair chance. He said everyone would get a fair chance, but I got a couple of injuries. I missed my chance."

Babayaro's only previous visits to Newcastle consisted of little more than the match at St James' Park, but he insisted he was already aware of the city's unique approach to football.

"I knew a little bit about the city and plenty about the football club and its supporters," he said. "I knew how passionate the fans are up here, it is the thing that makes Newcastle stand out.

"Until Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea there was nothing to choose between them and Newcastle. We were at the same standard. Both looked like they might be able to win the title, but never managed it. Then it all changed because of Abramovich. It is not the same Chelsea I joined, but they are doing so well and I'm pleased for them.

"I'm happy here, though. It was the right decision. Things have not gone as well as we'd like on the pitch, but we can change that. It's about a new beginning for me."

It is a new beginning, which, as he suggests, has not got off to the best start. There has been no Scottish revolution under Graeme Souness, just a few unconvincing changes in direction.

Six months into his reign as manager, the Magpies are stuck in mid-table mediocrity with pre-season hopes of a Champions' League challenge a distant, but aggravating, memory.

The club is still reeling from the embarrassing row between Souness and Craig Bellamy, which led to the latter's departure to Celtic last month and a demanding public are already losing patience with the Scot's attempts to impose a more defensive mind-set on a side constantly encouraged to attack by his predecessor, Sir Bobby Robson.

Only the cups hint at salvation, but a trip to the Netherlands to face Heerenveen in the Uefa Cup tonight is quickly followed by the arrival of Chelsea in the FA Cup on Sunday.

Having already knocked Newcastle out of the Carling Cup back in November, Babayaro's former team-mates are widely expected to do the same again. Yet Babayaro is adamant he would rather be embroiled in the tensions of Tyneside than a peripheral role in Chelsea's quadruple quest.

"Do I think they can do the quadruple? he said. "No, because I hope we knock them out of the Cup. It would give me a lot of satisfaction.

"Beating Chelsea is the sort of result which could make a season. It would be a bigger achievement to win a first trophy with Newcastle than it would have been to be on the fringes of winning things with Chelsea.

"I could have been a part of what is happening there. I could be playing in the Champions' League, challenging for a Premiership title. But why would I want to do that? After eight years it was time to move on. I would have gone in and trained hard every day, but I didn't know if I'd ever get in the team. Now I have a spring in my step."

He added: "If I win a trophy at Newcastle I will retire a happy man. That would be a massive thing to do because they haven't won anything in so long. The League is out of our reach, but in the Uefa and FA Cups, we have a chance."

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