Happy at Chelsea

Wayne Bridge made his name with Southampton, the city where he was born, before becoming one of Chelsea’s first signings following the culture-changing takeover by billionaire Roman Abramovich in the summer of 2003, writes Andy Hampson.

Wayne Bridge is an attack-minded left-back rated as one of the best in England but plays second fiddle to Ashley Cole for both club and country.

Bridge made his name with Southampton, the city where he was born, before becoming one of Chelsea’s first signings following the culture-changing takeover by billionaire Roman Abramovich in the summer of 2003. The future seemed bright for the then 22-year-old but injuries and competition for places have prevented him from making the impact many predicted he could. Nevertheless, he remains an important squad member and insists he is happy at Stamford Bridge.

Bridge grew up in the city of Winchester and was picked up by the Southampton scouting system as a youngster. He joined the club as a trainee just short of his 16th birthday and made his debut for the reserves just over a year later.

He broke into the first team in the 1998-99 season, initially playing on the left-wing. He gradually established himself and in the 2000-01 campaign he was not only an ever present but also player of the season. He continued his unbroken run in the side throughout the next season and on to January 2003, when he was finally forced out by injury. His run of 113 consecutive appearances was then a Barclays English Premier League record.

By now he was being noticed by bigger clubs and he was one of the stars of Southampton’s run to the 2003 FA Cup final. The team was beaten on that occasion by Arsenal and the game proved his last for the club as Chelsea then moved in.

Bridge was one of the more impressive of Abramovich’s first batch of signings and he enjoyed a solid first season for the Blues following his GBP7 million move, which also saw Graeme Le Saux join Southampton.

He went to Euro 2004 with England and maintained his form in the early part of the season but injury ruled him out of the second half of the campaign.

He has struggled to win back a regular place in the side ever since, having to rely on injuries to Cole. That occurred most notably last season when Bridge featured in the FA Cup and Carling Cup final-winning sides.

Bridge suffered the first major injury of his career when he broke his ankle in February 2005. In his absence, Chelsea went on to win the Barclays English Premier League, its first title in 50 years.

He was then pushed down the pecking order as Chelsea signed Asier del Horno in the summer and the following January he was allowed to join Fulham on loan.

The move to Craven Cottage proved a good one and was good enough to earn him a place in the England squad for the 2006 World Cup.

He returned to Stamford Bridge to face a familiar problem, however, as Cole arrived in a controversial move from Arsenal. Once again he was condemned to a waiting game.

Bridge is married to the French model and actress Veronica Peroncell. Together they have a son, Jaydon, who was born shortly before Bridge was offered a new four-year contract in November 2006.

Bridge certainly catches the eye out on the road, driving as he does a Porsche 911. The 911 is one of the most famous sportscars on the market and costs a cool GBP70,000.

Factfile Name: Wayne Bridge Position: Defender Club: Chelsea DOB: 05-08-1980 England caps: 28 England goals: 1 England debut: v Holland, February 2002 Moment to remember

The highlight of Bridge’s first season at Chelsea was his dramatic winner in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against London rival Arsenal. With the scores level at 1-1 (2-2 on aggregate) Bridge burst into the Gunners’ box with just three minutes of the second leg remaining and drilled a shot into the net. It settled an enthralling tie and ended the club’s 18-match winless streak against Arsenal.

Moment to forget

Bridge endured a miserable start to the current campaign after undergoing hip surgery in the summer. He finally looked to be getting back to fitness, and with Cole out injured, the prospects looked good as he was given a run-out for the reserves against Fulham in October. Unfortunately for him he was sent off and the resulting suspension kept him out of first-team action for a further month.

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