Born in Kinshasa in what is now the Congo but was then Zaire, Makelele began his career in France with Nantes and Marseille before joining Celta Vigo in 1998.
Two years later he joined Madrid, where he would go on to win two La Liga titles and the Champions League. He joined Chelsea in 2003, with whom he would win two Premier League titles.
The hole the French midfielder left at the Santiago Bernabeu was evident for many years after his departure, and now Makelele has explained the reasoning behind his decision in an interview with FourFourTwo carried by Marca.
“Seeing how things were happening at Madrid, I told Chelsea that if I was going to go I’d go there,” Makelele said. “I made them a promise and they did everything possible to sign me. I was 30 years old at the time but they still paid for an important transfer.
“I went to Chelsea because they came in for me first. Then, other teams like Inter Milan and Manchester United approached me, who had also wanted me before I went to Madrid.
“I don’t know if that Chelsea were the best team to have never won [the Champions League], but we were brilliant. In my five seasons at Chelsea we reached the semi-final four times, including the 2008 final.
“Not many clubs achieve that, and many spend billions trying to achieve it. Chelsea created that team very quickly.
“Normally it takes time for a team to establish a spirit like we did. I remember playing cards while getting ready for games, to relax and laugh. A good atmosphere was created in that team and nobody in the world wanted to play us during those seasons.”
After Chelsea, Makelele spent three years with Paris Saint-Germain before retiring in 2011. The midfielder, who could lay a legitimate claim to having invented a position, was also part of the France team that lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy.
Featured image courtesy of Sky Sports.