On a non-matchday at Stamford Bridge, there is a fair share of supporters, tourists and businessman alike around the 40,000-plus capacity stadium.
It is the day before Chelsea’s first home game in the Europa League since the second leg of their semi-final win over Basel in May 2013, which came less than three weeks prior to them lifting the trophy in Amsterdam later that month.
The Blues will take on Hungarian champions MOL Vidi on Thursday night, who, outside of their home nation, are somewhat of an unknown entity.
But to a certain Filipe Oliveira, who played eight times for Chelsea between 2002 and 2006, Vidi is a club who he has a lot of time for.
In four-and-a-half seasons in Hungary, the Portuguese winger scored over 20 goals in more than 150 matches, making more appearances there than he did at Porto, Chelsea, Preston North End, Maritimo, Leixoes, Braga, Parma, Torino, Anorthosis Famagusta and Sepsi Sf. Gheorghe combined.
He also won the Hungarian first division title and competed in the Europa League during his time with the side formerly known as Videoton.
Oliveira said that their manager at the time, ex-Portuguese international midfielder, Paulo Sousa, was a huge influence in a ‘special’ chapter of his career.
“I had an idea [about the club]because at the time, the manager was Paulo Sousa and he invited me to join Vidi,” described the 34-year-old.
“At the time, I had a small idea on what Hungary was, what the project was, what the club was, but I had never been to Hungary, so I had no idea of what to expect.
“With time, I felt that it could be a good move because Paulo always spoke with a lot of passion about the project and the people that were involved. I gave it a try, starting with a year on loan and after we [would]see. It was the beginning of something special.
“I added some titles to the club, played European football and it is always fantastic when you go to the club. You have the ambition to make something for them and in the end, you achieved this. That was the feeling I had when I left the club.”
For a large portion of Oliveira’s time with the Székesfehérvár-based team, they trained at the Puskás Akadémia, named after 1958 World Cup winner, former Real Madrid striker and one of Hungary’s national treasures, Ferenc Puskas.
According to Oliveira, the academy’s facilities are comparable with Chelsea’s set-up at their training base at Cobham.
“The surprise is, this was one of the key points of why I decided to go to Vidi”, he added.
“They trained at the Puskas academy; when I arrived there, Paulo already told me about his ambitions, but when I arrived I was extremely surprised. We are talking about very similar training conditions as Cobham.
“At the moment, they are building a stadium at the Puskas Academy and all-around of the stadium, you just have training grounds for the youth teams and [when]I arrived there, we were training there.
“I felt that after one year, I felt how big the club was and how much development it can achieve because first, they have the city behind the club, which is very important, and they are moving in the right way.
In 2002, an 18-year-old Oliveira signed for Chelsea from Porto’s academy.
Despite their lack of global of exposure prior to Oliviera’s arrival, he described how he used to watch Chelsea back in his native Portugal and that they had caught his eye from a young age. He believes that destiny bought him to South West London 16 years ago.
He said: “Maybe you will not believe me because it looks like a predictable story, but I’m telling you the truth. In Portugal, in the period when I was around 15 or 16 years old, there was a program on the second channel on Saturdays, they would show the highlights of the English football and I remember today that I used to love watching this program.
“One of the teams that caught my attention was Chelsea, don’t ask me why it was Chelsea. I know more or less the whole team that use to play; Ed de Goey, [Frank] Lebouf, Graeme Le Saux, Dennis Wise, [Gustavo] Poyet, Gianfranco Zola, Tore Andre Flo and others, I had this team in my head.”
Oliveira then turned to a large poster of Gianluca Vialli outside the window of Frankie’s sports bar, where Oliveira was enjoying half a pint of Guinness, he smiled and added: “Vialli!”
“I had the whole team in my head and because of destiny or something, the offer I got from England was from Chelsea. It became very natural, I felt related to the club because, in English football, I always followed this team, it was amazing.
“It was not a hard decision regarding football. Family wise, it was a much harder decision because I came from a very traditional Portuguese family, I have a younger brother. For 14 years, I was a single son, so my parents always protected me, it was a big step for me and for them as well. It is always hard for your oldest son to leave home to a new country, a new language, a new culture, but they knew I had all of the conditions to develop here. I am very glad I took the opportunity.”
During his first season in England, then-manager, Claudio Ranieri called-up Oliveira for their pre-season schedule.
The Portuguese midfielder, who predominantly played on the wing, was used a striker at times due to injuries to Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
That summer, he trained alongside Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea’s current assistant manager, who Oliveira admits is still his hero and that he has admired his work ever since they first worked together; he even insisted on having his photo taken with a poster of Zola after the interview.
He made his debut during a 3-0 victory over Manchester City in October 2002 as a replacement for Zola and smiled excessively whilst admitting that: “It was very special, especially because Gianfranco didn’t know at the time because he became my idol, a role model. He was someone that everything he would say, you would listen, and you would try to follow because he had this kind of impact on young players.
“I remember I used to try and arrive early in the training ground just to see him play football in the gym. I watched him take free-kicks in training, it was like magic for him, you can imagine when you have this kind of admiration for a player and you come on for your first game in his position, it was brilliant.
“I remember very well that in pre-season, when [Claudio] Ranieri took on pre-season with the first-team, Gudjohnsen was injured and Hasselbaink was injured as well, so we did not have that many strikers available at the time. There was me, but I was a winger and Ranieri took me as a striker, Carlton Cole and Gianfranco. I remember Gianfranco told me, ‘you’re a winger, right? Don’t worry, I will help you with everything, just keep it simple’”
“At the time, he was twice my age, I was 18, he was 36 so you can imagine what kind of impact this had, it makes you feel very welcome and it helps you get you involved in the first team and it was a magical period for me.
“Today, I have a big picture of him on the wall because I have learned so much football wise and human being wise, how to help younger kids, I’ve tried to always do this throughout my career. I was one of the players who always tried to translate everything to everybody, I speak four languages so there was always someone in the club new and foreign because I got that from here, they were my role models. I felt more related to Gianfranco because I felt special in his eyes.”
When he first arrived into London, Oliveira was not able to drive and feels indebted to his former teammate and another member of Chelsea’s current coaching staff, Carlo Cudicini, who used to act as his personal taxi service.
“Outside of football, I especially have to give thanks to Carlo Cudicini”, he added.
“Carlo helped me a lot because there was a period where I did not have a driving license and he used to take me everywhere, to the training ground. It was really nice of him and that is why I have so much appreciation for him because when you are a young kid, arriving in the youth club, it is important that the older players help you settle to face your new reality and I was very fortunate.”
Chelsea’s clash with Vidi on Thursday evening is the first-ever meeting between the two sides and the occasion itself is what solely bought Oliveira to his old home ground.
He believes it will be a special occasion both for Vidi, as well as for himself.
With a lot of joy and excitement, Oliveira said: “I am happy that they are playing each other. I think it is very fantastic for the players of Vidi that they can play such a massive club like Chelsea and they deserve very much to have this opportunity and now, I hope they enjoy it as much as they can.
“I am sure that both teams will do their best and for me, it feels special because I have the opportunity for two very important teams in my career to play against each other.
“Chelsea is, of course, the stronger side, but in football, you always need to respect your opponent. Vidi’s players will always do their best and make Chelsea’s job as hard as possible.
“Playing at Stamford Bridge is always hard in front of English fans, but I think it will be a good game.”
He laughed when asked for a score prediction and said: “I won’t predict the score because you put me in a difficult spot, but it will be a win-win for me.”
Oliveira has been without a club since July, having left Romanian side Sepsi Sf. Gheorghe, but said that his playing career has come to an end.
The former player, who represented Portugal over 50 times at youth level is looking to the future and aims to become a coach.
“I have finished my career”, he explained.
“I decided that it was the right moment for me to do it. I want to get involved with football and I am working on that already.
“I am developing my football skills more and more as a director and as a coach. Probably next year, I will come here to England to [do]something related to football.
“In the meantime, I am enjoying time with my family which is massive for me, because for years, I couldn’t give them my 100% attention, but I am now fortunate that I can do that.