‘Chelsea wanted to sign Francesco Totti – but trips to Sunderland were not sexy’

The career of Francesco Totti might have panned out far differently had Chelsea succeeded in their plans to recruit the Roma and Italy legend.

'Il Capitano' wasn't the only superstar the Blues failed to sign despite their best efforts in the early days of the Roman Abramovich ownership. The Russian billionaire transformed the Premier League club into a European superpower after taking over in 2003, but even Abramovich's riches couldn't influence the weather.

Marcel Desailly completed his own move to west London after winning the 1998 World Cup with France, clinching an FA Cup in his second season at Stamford Bridge. And his trophy cabinet might have bulged that bit more had a certain compatriot joined him at the club, hailing former team-mate Zinedine Zidane as his most talented colleague of all time.

"Zidane is the best I played with. He was a magician with the ball," said Desailly while speaking to BoyleSports, who offer the latest Premier League odds. "In training for France, we tried to close him down quickly, me, Lilian Thuram and Bixente Lizarazu. We tried to surround him with speed.

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"We noticed how he could see players coming at him in slow motion, you think you are fast but he sees you in slow motion so if you come from the left, he has the option of the right, if the right is congested, he still has different options calmly with class. He is something special."

The 54-year-old went on to name drop Zidane and Totti as two particular talents who might have completed moves to the club were it not for England's more modest climate.

"I was captain at Chelsea when Abramovich took over at Chelsea, he was not speaking English so he had a translator," added Desailly. "He bought a lot of players to the club. But Zidane was fine in Madrid, he was not at his peak in 2003 and 2004. We never had a discussion over Zidane.

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"Francesco Totti at the time was wanted by Chelsea. He was in Rome at the time. Stamford Bridge would have loved Zidane, but when you have to go and play at Sunderland and Everton, it was not going to be sexy! It was not for him at the time."

Aside from 'not being sexy', it would have taken a lot more to get Totti out of the Stadio Olimpico, where he retired in 2017 as a gleaming example of the one-club man. The Roman icon scored a record 307 goals in 786 appearances for the Giallorossi and ascended to a directorial role in 2017 before withdrawing two years later.

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It's fair to say both he and Zidane did just fine in their playing careers without Chelsea's aid, both winning World Cups for their country. In fact, Totti clinched the 2006 title after beating Les Bleus in an iconic final, where Zidane was infamously sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the chest prior to losing on penalties.

Despite winning major silverware as a player in Italy and Spain, one could argue Zidane's achievements as Real Madrid manager – which include three Champions League crowns and two titles in La Liga – outweigh any feats on the field. Desailly would have benefited more than anyone, meanwhile, winning a single FA Cup with the Blues before joining Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa in 2004.

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