Ex-Chelsea star Carlton Cole recalls Gronkjaer brawl and punching air in delight when Blues sealed Champions League spot

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CARLTON COLE went from a Jesper Gronkjaer KO to punching the air in delight when the Dane sealed Champions League football for Chelsea.

It heralded a new dawn for the Blues  back in 2003 — and now striker Cole hopes today’s side can show that same fighting spirit to finish in the top four and begin another era of domination.

Cole was a self-professed “hot-headed” teenager in Claudio Ranieri’s ranks 17 years ago.

That season had been full of tensions in the squad with the club in financial peril due to overspending.

Months before that famous final-day 2-1 win over Liverpool, Cole had a dust-up with Gronkjaer in training, sparked by a bad tackle.

Yet all was forgotten long before the winger netted what has been called the £1billion goal, as it saved skint Chelsea — who were then bought by Roman Abramovich a month later.

Cole, now 36, recalled: “I was really young back then so I probably didn’t feel the magnitude of the game. I was just playing with no fear.

“But we knew it was an important game to get in the Champions League.

“The club needed it or it would have been on its knees, financially.

“It was a weird sort of game but we came out on top and Jesper Gronkjaer played an integral part.

“I got in a bit of a scuffle with some of my team-mates that season.

“Gronkjaer, funnily enough, that season I had a little fight with him, a little punch-up. It was just over training.

“He had tackled me wrongly, kneed me in the back twice, which was really out of character for him because he’s one of the nicest guys in football.

“But at the end of it, we were all together and we led the team to the Champions League.”

Young Callum has kind of mirrored what I was doing, apart from contracts are different for young players these days.

Abramovich’s billions transformed Blues  into one of the world’s top sides. Yet it sparked the end for Cole, who had looked set to be a big part of the club’s future before the Russian oligarch arrived.

The striker, who had a close bond with Abramovich’s predecessor Ken Bates, was sent out on a number of loans.

Cole  joined West Ham permanently in 2006.

Chelsea, under Cole’s old team-mate Frank Lampard, have given youth a huge chance this season, with the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham coming in.

But the spending has returned, with Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner already signed up — and Kai Havertz set to follow.

It could limit the chances of Callum Hudson-Odoi, another talented English teenager  like Cole was 17 years ago.

Cole said: “Young Callum has kind of mirrored what I was doing, apart from contracts are different for young players these days.

“He does have that situation on his hands where he is that promising prospect but he’s not getting the game-time.

“But when he looks around the team, he sees other young players he knows already.

“With me, I didn’t have any other young player to look to, really, who I came up with.

Wolves are the equivalent of Liverpool back then. They could cause Chelsea a massive problem.

“He might feel frustrated that they’re getting more game-time than him but he’s had a bad injury which takes time to get back from.

“There is going to be limited play-time for him so he might have to go on loan.

Tammy Abraham went out on loan, did brilliantly, and that’s why he’s getting his chance this season.

“It could be the same for Callum.”

Standing in Chelsea’s way today  are Cole’s old loan side Wolves at Stamford Bridge.

He said: “Wolves are now the equivalent of what Liverpool were back then.
“Liverpool were pushing to get in the Champions League.

“They are a team that could cause Chelsea a massive problem.

“There are  lots of similarities to us 17 years ago. Hopefully Chelsea do the same thing.”

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