COPENHAGEN DENMARK - FEBRUARY 21: Jesper Gronkjaer of FC Copenhagen participates in a training session the day before the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between FC Copenhagen and Chelsea at Parken Stadium on February 21 2011 in Copenhagen Denmark. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
As a Chelsea blogger, I think I have a legal obligation to mention the fact that Jespar Gronkjaer scored what many consider to be the most important goal in the club's history back in 2003. Gronkjaer did indeed score the winner in Chelsea's triumph over Liverpool that secured their 4th place finish and subsequent admission to the Champions League, ultimately attracting owner Roman Abramovich to the club.
It's not an exaggeration to say that that game was the pivotal moment in Chelsea's history - we certainly wouldn't have a burgeoning trophy cabinet if that result had gone differently and we may not still have been in top flight football. The value of qualifying for the Champiols League that year has been guessed to be in the realm of £1,000,000,000, which is rather a lot of money and probably hyperbole, but we need a number so we'll take that one.
Here's the game in question, for those who don't remember it:
After Gronkjaer's spectacular winner and Chelsea's subsequent rise towards becoming one of the top football clubs in the world, whenever his name has been brought up it's traditional for those connected with the Blues to prattle on about how he scored the most important goal in the history of the club and how we should love him forever and ever. There's a problem though: He didn't. Yes, he is rightly credited with the 26th minute goal from the edge of the area, shot off-balance just after beating a pair of defenders. But Gronkjaer's curler had missed the target, what would have happened? Turns out not a whole lot, assuming Liverpool didn't score again.
On May 3rd, Chelsea started the day in 4th place, even on points with 5th place Liverpool and nine ahead on goal differential. With a huge lead in goal difference, all Chelsea needed to do was hold Liverpool to a draw to secure 4th place - Blackburn in 6th were already out of the picture. So, it was Marcel Desailly who really launched Chelsea into the Champions League, equalising after Sami Hyppia opened up the scoring very early on. Gronkjaer's goal simply gave the Blues a safety net. How much were each of those actually worth, though? Could the security offered by a 2-1 advantage be a greater value over the course of the game than the goal to make it 1-1?
Fortunately, we have some tools with which to attack this problem. Let's take a look at what happened through the magic of win probability:
Since Liverpool needed a win to qualify for the Champions League, we can take Liverpool's CL probability (CL%liv) as the match win probability, and Chelsea's (CL%che) as 1-CL%liv. Then we can figure out basic changes for each event. Here goes:
Kickoff: CL%liv: 26.7%; CL%che: 73.3%.
Sami Hyppia goal, 11th minute: CL%liv: 55.2%; CL%che: 44.8%.
Marcel Desailly goal, 13th minute: CL%liv: 27.7%; CL%che: 74.3%.
Jesper Gronkjaer goal, 26th minute: CL%liv: 8.7%; CL%che: 91.3%
Since the match was at Stamford Birdge, Chelsea were always going to be heavily favoured to at least secure a point, starting out with an almost 75% chance of achieving 4thplace. Hyppia's goal cut that by 28.5%, Desailly's reply raised it back up 29.5%, and Gronkjaer's winner boosted Chelsea's non-loss expectancy by 17.0%.
If Chelsea's qualification for the Champions League really was worth £1B, then Gronkjaer's goal itself was worth about £170M, a good £115M less than Desailly's brilliant header. Marcel Desailly, then, is really the man who scored the most valuable goal in Chelsea's history, and by a good 167%, at that. However, let's not strip Gronkjaer of all the credit just yet. Go back up to that video and tell me just who supplied the cross for the captain to nod in so beautifully.
Yes, it's that man Jesper Gronkjaer again. Instead of laying claim to the most important goal in the history of the club, he'll have to settle for the most important Chelsea assist of all time. That's not so bad, is it?