The Oligarchs

The Premier League is 25 years old on 15 August 2017.

To mark the anniversary, BBC Sport has produced five pieces, each covering a five-year period in the competition's history.

This is the third piece, focusing on the span from 2002-03 to the end of the 2006-07 campaign.

Scroll down for written insight, a visual timeline, Mark Lawrenson's team of the era, a tailored tactics board and tables, before testing yourself with our Merlin sticker quiz.

Sometimes you can see the future coming.

When Wayne Rooney scored his first league goal for Everton in October 2002, 16 years old and 30 yards out against England’s long-time goalkeeper, you didn’t need to be told to remember the name.

Less than two years later, his country’s most exciting player at their most recent major championship disappointment, the teenager signed for the Premier League’s most successful club for a record-breaking transfer fee. What fewer envisaged was that it would be three more years until the combination yielded another title.

After United won their eighth Premier League in 11 seasons in 2003, Alex Ferguson decided it was time for one of his periodic rebuilding-from-the-top summers. So it was that David Beckham got his Galactico move to Spain, World Cup winner Fabien Barthez would be lobbed no more and the criminally underwhelming Juan Sebastian Veron was palmed off on Chelsea.

In their place came a series of flops – David Bellion for £2m, Eric Djemba-Djemba for £3.5m, Brazilian midfielder Kleberson for £6m – and one uncut diamond, the 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and Kleberson (left) - one would go on to become a Manchester United legend. The other would not

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and Kleberson (left) - one would go on to become a Manchester United legend. The other would not

His £12.24m price-tag, slightly less than Ferguson would shortly afterwards pay for Louis Saha, would prove arguably the greatest bargain in the league’s burgeoning history. That it was almost an afterthought at the time was because Veron was just a small part of the £110m that Chelsea would spend following their takeover from the brink of bankruptcy under Ken Bates by unknown Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

What do you buy the shy billionaire who has everything? Glen Johnson at right-back and Scott Parker to sit on the bench, it would transpire.

They also bought a striker in Adrian Mutu who would score four goals in his first three matches and end up, after a positive test for cocaine and a series of court cases, owing his new club £17m in damages.

Hernan Crespo was another of those trophy buys to promise more than he would eventually deliver, his 12 goals in his first season dwindling into loans back to Italy and a second coming at Stamford Bridge that few noticed. In the background were those who would really bring back the silverware - Claude Makelele for £16m, Damien Duff for £17m, Joe Cole joining his old West Ham team-mate and friend Frank Lampard for £6.6m.

It would take time and a new manager in place of Claudio Ranieri to make the blend work. Meanwhile at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger cooked up the Invincibles, the first team to win the top flight unbeaten since Preston 115 years before, led in stirring fashion by Thierry Henry, buttressed by the midfield assists and goals of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg.

Ljungberg dyed his hair Gunners red and displayed his abdominal muscles in a series of commercials for Calvin Klein, and complained later that the ads led to him being groped in nightclubs. Neither scenario would have troubled his predecessor on the Arsenal flanks, Paul Merson, but Wenger’s finest team wasn’t all beauty and no beast: Pascal Cygan played a key supporting role in a remorseless defence, while the first of the manager’s summer signings had been Philippe Senderos, and his second Jens Lehmann.

Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg - full-time footballer, part-time model

Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg - full-time footballer, part-time model

It was a short-lived dynasty. In June 2004 Abramovich made his most important transfer move of all, bringing Porto manager Jose Mourinho to the club. Coaching would turn the former interpreter’s hair from black to grey, but not before the silverware had piled up, and fast: a first league title for Chelsea in 50 years, achieved with a record points tally and the fewest goals conceded yet.

Much of that first championship-winning team had been inherited – Lampard, Makelele, Duff, John Terry. The key additions under Mourinho came through the spine – Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho and the most important of all, Didier Drogba, who just a season before had been playing for a town of 7,000 people in the middle of the Brittany boondocks.

Supporters of rivals welcomed their own overseas investors with expectant arms, only to discover that a foreign passport and a heap of cash were no guarantee of success.

Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, Tom Hicks and George Gillett at Liverpool and Eggert Magnusson at West Ham all promised much and delivered less. Malcolm Glazer seldom spoke at all as he took over Manchester United, but the debt he brought with him would make the pips squeak.

Mourinho and Chelsea would repeat themselves in 2005-06 so everyone understood just how special they were.

Less-heralded clubs enjoyed their own relative surges – Bolton to sixth, Wigan to 10th, Reading to eighth – while others dawdled in their wake, Manchester City finishing 14th, 15th and 16th in the slump before their own storm.

The Premier League kept changing, even as its 15,000th goal was scored, even as no-one predicted it would be scored by Fulham defender Moritz Volz. By 2006 three of its clubs had shirts sponsored by internet betting companies, something which no-one would have put money on at its birth, the global reach of the competition illustrated by Everton advertising a beer from Thailand under its own Latin crest.

Ferguson, never likely to stand still and watch as Mourinho moved in, made the critical move in his team’s comeback by signing Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra within days of each other in January 2006.

Michael Carrick joined that summer, and with the kids Ronaldo and Rooney grown to men and producing 50 goals between them the following season, the title was once again back at Old Trafford.

Premier moments: The events that define the era...

19 October 2002: I think this kid’s got something! Everton striker Wayne Rooney becomes the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history with a last-minute winner against Arsenal, five days before his 17th birthday. Everton’s win ends the Gunners' 30-match unbeaten Premiership run.

2 July 2003: Chelsea are bought by billionaire Roman Abramovich in a deal worth £140m. The surprise takeover - the biggest in British football history - is finalised after talks with long-time Blues chairman Ken Bates. The club go on to spend £110m on 11 players by the end of the summer.

19 December 2003: Manchester United and England centre-back Rio Ferdinand receives an eight-month ban from football and a £50,000 fine for missing a drugs test on 22 September. He misses the rest of the season and Euro 2004. England players came close to striking for the crucial qualifier in Turkey in October after the Football Association left Ferdinand out of the squad.

15 May 2004: Arsenal, who had relinquished the title to Manchester United the previous season, complete the Premier League campaign unbeaten with a 2-1 win over Leicester as they reclaim the title. They are the first team to avoid losing a game in a league season since Preston in 1889.

2 June 2004: Jose Mourinho takes over as manager of Chelsea, replacing the sacked Claudio Ranieri. His news conference is legendary, during which he says: “Please don't call me arrogant because what I am saying is true. I am European champion. I think I am the special one.”

31 August 2004: After starring in England's run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, 18-year-old Wayne Rooney leaves Everton for Manchester United in a £27m deal - a world record for a teenager. He scores a hat-trick on his debut, in the Champions League.

24 October 2004: Arsenal's record streak of unbeaten top-flight league matches ends at 49 with a 2-0 away loss to Manchester United. The game is overshadowed by a post-match altercation which sees Sir Alex Ferguson hit by a slice of pizza.

28 February 2005: Norwich director and celebrity chef Delia Smith takes to the Carrow Road pitch at half-time during the game with Manchester City to rally the fans, telling them: "A message for the best football supporters in the world: we need a 12th man here. Where are you? Where are you? Let's be 'avin' you! Come on!" Norwich lose 3-2.

2 April 2005: In a Premier League match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at St James' Park, Newcastle team-mates Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer are sent off for fighting each other. Bowyer is fined £200,000 by the club with captain Alan Shearer calling the incident “a disgrace”.

30 April 2005: Chelsea win their first top-flight title in 50 years, with a 2-0 victory over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium that gives them a still record points tally of 95. Frank Lampard, who would go on to score a record 211 goals for the club, gets both goals. Chelsea will claim the title again the following year.

12 May 2005: US sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer and his family win control of Manchester United in a £790m takeover. It is a move that splits opinion among fans, with many unhappy at the debt the new owners build up at the club. In the Glazers’ second full season in control, United reclaim the title from Chelsea.

22 October 2005: Arsenal pair Thierry Henry and Robert Pires make a mess of a penalty routine against Manchester City when the latter attempts to set up the former by tapping the ball to him from the spot. However, he scuffs his touch and instead concedes a free-kick. Fortunately for the French duo, the Gunners beat City 1-0.

4 February 2006: Alan Shearer becomes Newcastle United's top scorer of all time, netting his 201st goal for the club, against Portsmouth at St James' Park, beating Jackie Milburn's 200-goal tally which had stood for 49 years. He retires in April 2006 after scoring 206 times for the Magpies and 260 Premier League goals in total.

Team of the era: Chelsea 04-05

We asked former Liverpool defender and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson to select his team of the era...

"Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ going the full season unbeaten in 2004 was an amazing achievement but, in Jose Mourinho’s first season at Chelsea, his side only lost once and broke the Premier League points record - a mark that still stands.

"The Blues finished on 95 points, compared to 90 for the Gunners a year before - they actually drew a lot of games.

"Mourinho’s arrival is significant. His side won more games than Arsenal had done too - 29 to 26 - which is surprising when you think that he is now known as a manager who would sometimes take a draw rather than try to win every time."

These are the key players from Chelsea's 2004-05 campaign...
Petr Cech (right) and Carlo Cudicini (left)

Chelsea spent about £95m on players in the summer of 2004, £7.1m of which went on Cech. The Czech goalkeeper kept 24 clean sheets as the Blues conceded just 15 goals all season. Cech stayed at Chelsea until 2015, making 494 appearances.

Cech's arrival relegated Cudicini to the bench. The Italian was widely regarded as the best keeper in the division two seasons earlier. He made only three league appearances in 2004-05 and rarely got a look in before joining Tottenham in 2009.
Glen Johnson (left), Wayne Bridge (centre) and Paulo Ferreira (right)

Johnson has played at two World Cups for England and commanded transfer fees of £28m. He made six appearances in 2004-05, one more than Bridge, who was injured from February onwards. They would play just 45 more games between them for the Blues before Johnson joined Portsmouth and Bridge moved to Manchester City.

Ferreira was Mourinho's first signing for Chelsea and the £13.2m man would go on to make more than 200 appearances for the club before retiring in 2013.
John Terry (right), Ricardo Carvalho (left) and William Gallas (centre)

Captain, leader, legend. John Terry was the rock that Chelsea's defence was built upon, missing just two games in 2004-05. The future England captain would win 15 major trophies, including five league titles, before joining Aston Villa in 2017.

Carvalho - a near £20m signing in the summer of 2004 - partnered Terry superbly for years. He eventually left for Real Madrid in 2010. Versatile Gallas filled in across the back. He joined Arsenal as part of the Ashley Cole deal in 2006.
Alexei Smertin (left), Claude Makelele (centre), Tiago (right)

Russian bit-part player Smertin sandwiched a title win in between loan spells with Portsmouth and Charlton, but still made 16 appearances for Mourinho's winners. Makelele made the Makelele role his own at Chelsea. He played in all but two of the Blues' league games in 2004-05. A club hero, he left for Paris St-Germain in 2008 and is now Swansea's assistant manager.

Tiago spent just this one season with Chelsea but was a firm Mourinho favourite, playing in 34 league games and scoring some spectacular goals.
Damien Duff (left) and Arjen Robben (right)

History may label this Chelsea side as functional rather than thrilling. But in wingers Duff and Robben, they had the players to sparkle as well as stifle.

Duff, a £17m signing from Blackburn in 2003, was excellent, scoring six league goals. On the other flank, Robben was electric at times and one of the Premier League's most exciting players to watch before joining Real Madrid in 2007. He is still a match-winner today for Bayern Munich and the Netherlands.
Joe Cole (left) and Frank Lampard (right)

Joe Cole had to fight for his place in the Chelsea team but was a key member of Mourinho's squad, scoring eight times in the league. Never quite first choice for club or country, the midfielder still turns out for MLS side the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Lampard played every game in 2004-05, scoring 13 Premier League goals and assisting 16 more. The heartbeat of Mourinho's side, Lampard would eventually score a record 211 times for the club.
Didier Drogba (left) Eidur Gudjohnsen (centre) and Mateja Kezman (right)

Drogba cost a club record £24m in the summer of 2004 but had an injury-hit debut season. He only started 18 league games and scored 10 times. However, by the end of his career he had plundered 164 goals for the club in two spells.

Playing just off the main striker, Gudjohnsen scored 12 times in the league and only missed one league match. Kezman had scored 105 goals in 122 games with PSV. He scored four league goals and gained a title winners’ medal in his only season in England.
Jiri Jarosik (left), Mikael Forssell (centre) and Geremi (right)

In either midfield or defence, Jarosik was a commanding presence on the fringe of the Chelsea team. He later played for Birmingham and Celtic, and is a title winner in four countries. Forssell was continually loaned out during his Chelsea career and made just one league appearance in 2004-05 before moving on, also to Birmingham.

Geremi filled in at full-back or in midfield, making 21 appearances in all competitions. He remained at the club until 2007, when he joined Newcastle.

Tactics of the time

Michael Cox, author of The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines:

"Jose Mourinho played a 4-3-3 system from the outset and teams struggled to cope in midfield. They had a three on two in the centre of the pitch, which meant they were outmanoeuvring 4-4-2 systems.

"Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien were very powerful players, none of them were really playmakers. He liked quick wingers who could defend too. We all knew they could get forward and score goals but they were very tactically disciplined as they protected their full-backs very well.

"Mourinho and Rafael Benitez were two managers who were quite reactive, more negative, and that was the most defensive period in the Premier League."

Do you know your Malbranque from your Mullins?

Test your knowledge of Premier League players from 2002 to 2007 with our sticker quiz, in conjunction with Merlin stickers.

Use the clues to identify specific players from the era. Scroll down to reveal the answer, in sticker form...