Of all the friends and team-mates that turned up to support Michael Essien in Ghana last weekend, there are few who spent longer on the field with the Ghanaian down the years than Ricardo Carvalho.
The pair played five seasons together at Stamford Bridge before Carvalho departed for Real Madrid in 2010 following our Double season. Last summer, they were reunited when Essien joined him at the Bernabeu on a season-long loan, and Carvalho was delighted to fly to Africa to show support for his friend and former colleague.
While there, the Portuguese defender demonstrated two things that made him such a popular figure at Chelsea. On the pitch, he was as effective as ever in winning the ball from deep before bursting forward to become an ancillary attacker, just as he so memorably did when we wrapped up the league title against Manchester United in 2006, while away from the football, Carvalho was as relaxed as ever as he caught up with players and staff alike.
Fortunately, the official Chelsea website was able to spend a few minutes chatting with the 35-year-old, who last month signed up to join Monaco, recently promoted back to the top division in France under the guidance of our former manager Claudio Ranieri.
‘I still feel fit and want to play often, to help the team to grow,’ he told us. ‘I finished my contract with Real Madrid this year, and had a few options but chose the best one for me to go to. I chose Monaco, I could have gone to America, Dubai or a couple of Italian teams showed interest, but I think Monaco will be perfect for me and my family.’
He is not the only Portuguese native from the Chelsea family considering options this close season. Jose Mourinho has of course returned to Stamford Bridge, but Carvalho’s former team-mate Paulo Ferreira reaches the end of his current contract this summer having spent nine years in SW6.
‘Overall Paulo is a professional,’ said a man who shared dressing rooms with Ferreira at Porto before Chelsea. ‘He always did what the coach asked him, he doesn’t want a problem with anyone, he only wants to have good relations with people.
‘Of course, he chose to stay for a long time and in the last few years he didn’t play so much but was always there to help and do a good job. I don’t know if he will continue playing or not, he loves his family life in London, so he may decide to finish and stay in the area. I wish him good luck with whatever he chooses.’
Carvalho still feels an affection for the club, and believes Mourinho will help us challenge once more for the Barclays Premier League title. He acknowledges, however, that in the three years since he left, it is a much-changed club.
‘I keep in touch with a few players, we don’t speak too often but when you see them you have a great feeling,’ he explained. ‘It was a special club for me and I still miss it. I spoke with Essien about the dressing room and how it was going. In my time it was fantastic but there are only a few players left now from my time. I also saw Frank Lampard recently and it was nice to speak with him. It is a special club and I had a privilege to play there.
‘I still sometimes speak with the medical team at Cobham, we swap emails. They were good with me when I was injured.
‘I still watch for results also. Mourinho knows I like the club and when we spoke in Madrid we would talk about it and he would in the hotels before games tell me the results of the games.
‘He is a special coach for me. Last year I thought was not a happy one but this is the right move for him. He has the respect of everybody at Chelsea, the fans love him and the players know how he works. He is a great coach and gets results. Chelsea can improve their consistency in the league and I think he will do that.’