Gianfranco Zola

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Gianfranco Zola
Gianfranco Zola 2.JPG
0Full Name Gianfranco Zola
0Date of Birth 5 July 1966
0Place of Birth Oliena, Sardinia
0Position Forward
0Chelsea career 1996-2003
0Debut 16 November 1996
0Games (goals) 312 (80)
0Other clubs Nuorese
SSC Napoli
Parma FC
Cagliari Calcio

Gianfranco Zola, OBE, Ufficiale OMRI [1] (born 5 July 1966 in Oliena, Sardinia) is a former Italian international who played for Chelsea between 1996 and 2003. He spent the first decade of his career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli, alongside the legendary Argentinian Diego Maradona and Brazilian striker Careca, and at Parma, before moving to Chelsea, where he was voted Football Writers' Player of the Year in 1997 and Chelsea's greatest ever player by the club's fans. [2] He was capped 35 times for Italy.


Before Chelsea

Zola signed his first professional contract with Sardinian team Nuorese in 1984. In 1986 he moved to Torres from Sassari, the oldest club in Sardinia, where he spent three seasons. In 1989 he signed for Napoli in Serie A. The young and talented Zola scored two goals as understudy to Diego Maradona as Napoli won the Serie A title in 1990. Maradona would prove to be a big influence on Zola's career. The two would spend hours practising free kicks together after training and Zola later said that "I learned everything from Diego. I used to spy on him every time he trained and learned how to curl a free-kick just like him"[3]. He helped Napoli to win the Supercoppa Italiana in 1991 and he made his debut for the Italian national side under coach Arrigo Sacchi in the same year, winning his first cap against Norway in November. In 1993, Zola left Napoli and joined fellow Serie A side Parma. He won the UEFA Cup with Parma and they were runners-up in Serie A and the Italian Cup in 1995. It was with Parma that he cemented his reputation as a creative player. However, coach Carlo Ancelotti came to see Zola as a "square peg" unable to fit into his rigid system [4]. Zola was played out of position and ultimately made available for transfer.

Chelsea career

In November 1996, Zola joined Chelsea for £4.5m as one of several continental players signed by Ruud Gullit and wore the number 25 jersey. Zola's debut against Tottenham Hotspur was the first immediately following the death of much loved Chelsea director Matthew Harding in a helicopter crash three days before. In his debut season he put in several notable performances and scored a series of memorable goals. In February 1997, after spiriting the ball around Manchester United's defence in the penalty area before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, he was described by United manager Alex Ferguson as a "clever little so-and-so." [5] He was a key player in Chelsea's resurgence that season, helping them win the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough at Wembley having scored four goals en route to the final, including a 25 yard curling shot against Liverpool as Chelsea came from 0-2 behind to win 4-2, and a "twisted blood" effort in the semi-final against Wimbledon, backheeling the ball and turning 180 degrees before slotting the ball into the net. At the end of the season he was voted Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year, the only player ever to win the accolade without playing a full season in the English league and the first Chelsea player to win it.

Scoring in the UEFA CWC Final

In 1997-98 he helped Chelsea win three more trophies, the League Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the Super Cup. An injury denied him a place in the starting line-up for the Cup Winners' Cup Final against VfB Stuttgart at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm, but he came on as a second-half substitute and scored the winning goal within 21 seconds. With only his second touch of the game, he struck a through ball from Dennis Wise past goalkeeper Franz Bernhard Wohlfahrt into the roof of the net to secure Chelsea's third major trophy in a year and the second European trophy in the club's history. In the same season Zola hit his first professional hat-trick, in a 4-0 victory over Derby County at Stamford Bridge in November 1997.

"Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and the wizard must try."
-Claudio Ranieri reflecting on Zola's back-heeled goal against Norwich in 2002.[6]

When Chelsea made their first appearance in the Champions League in 1999-00, Zola was a key player throughout, although he found his chances in the league more limited, owing to manager Gianluca Vialli's squad rotation policy. Zola scored three goals in Chelsea's run to the quarter-finals, including a curling free kick against Barcelona, and again won the FA Cup with the club, with his free-kick in the final against Aston Villa setting up Roberto Di Matteo's winner. His later years with Chelsea saw his appearances restricted by the new strike pairing of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eiður Guðjohnsen, but in Hasselbaink`s first season at Stamford Bridge, Zola formed a good partnership with him, scoring 32 league goals between them, (Zola scoring 9 and Hasselbaink hauled 23). It was the 2001-02 season that Zola`s starting chances became limited, after a summer when Claudio Ranieri showed to door to many of Chelsea`s ageing stars such as club captain Dennis Wise, goalscoring midfielder Gustavo Poyet and French defender Frank Leboeuf, Zola was limited to infrequent starts and many substitute appearances due to Ranieri`s new policy of decreasing the average age of the Chelsea squad, preferring to play the gifted Icelandic youngster Gudjohnsen with Hasselbiank, though Zola did score with a backheeled effort in mid-air in an FA Cup tie against Norwich City, a goal manager Claudio Ranieri described as "fantasy, magic". [7]. In 2002–03, his final season with Chelsea, he enjoyed a renaissance, scoring 16 goals, his highest seasonal tally for Chelsea, and was voted the club's player of the year after helping Chelsea qualify for the Champions League.

Zola scored his final goal for Chelsea, a lob from outside the penalty area against Everton, on Easter Monday 2003, and made his final competitive appearance for the club on the final day of the season with a 20-minute cameo against Liverpool, beating four Liverpool players during a fantastic dribble late on in the match, gaining applause from both sets of fans. This would become the final class moment of his Chelsea career. He played in a total of 312 games for Chelsea and scored 80 goals. In early 2003, Zola was voted as the best ever Chelsea player by Chelsea's fans. In November 2004, he was awarded an OBE - Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire - in a special ceremony in Rome. [8] In 2005 Zola was voted into the Chelsea FC Centenary Eleven, occupying one of the two forward roles. Whilst the club has not officially withdrawn Zola's number 25 shirt from circulation, no other player has held the squad number since his departure.

After Chelsea

In the summer of 2003, amid rumours of an impending takeover at Chelsea, Zola left Stamford Bridge to join Cagliari, the most important club from his native Sardinia. Within a week Chelsea was acquired by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. It was reported that Abramovich tried to buy the entire Cagliari club [9] when Zola refused to renege on his verbal contract with Cagliari, although Zola himself will not confirm it. Zola subsequently led Cagliari to promotion to the Italian Serie A. Then he renewed his contract for Cagliari Calcio for one more year. He retired in June 2005, after ending his career in appropriate style with a double against Juventus in his last ever professional game. His number 10 Cagliari jersey was withdrawn in his honour for the season after he left but was worn in the 2006–07 season by Andrea Capone.

In his playing career, Zola played 627 games and scored 193 goals. Despite speculation he would play on in the 2005–06 season, Zola decided to leave the game just a week before he turned 39, and took a job as an Italian football pundit.

In 2006, Zola started his coaching career, being appointed as assistant to Italy national under-21 head coach Pierluigi Casiraghi by the Italian Football Federation. The duo, who had been teammates at Chelsea, led the azzurrini to gain a spot at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where they reached the quarter-finals before being defeated 3–2 by Belgium. On 9 September 2008, Zola agreed a three-year contract to manage West Ham United, replacing Alan Curbishley, who resigned following differences with the board. In April 2009, Zola signed a contract that will keep him at Upton Park until 2013.

Zola was sacked by West Ham on 11 May 2010 just two days after the 2009-10 season had ended, with his last game in charge being a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at Upton Park. He was reportedly under pressure after David Gold and David Sullivan took over the reigns at West Ham in early 2010, and the season was a disappointing one, with the club narrowly avoiding relegation. He stayed at West Ham for less then two years in which he guided the club to ninth and seventeenth places respectively. In 2012 he was appointed manager of Watford.


Zola played for his country at the 1994 World Cup, making one appearance in the second round against Nigeria. After only a few minutes, the referee completely misjudged an ordinary tackle against an opponent defender, sending Zola off and forcing him to miss the two subsequent World Cup matches. He could still have played the Italy-Brazil final, if half-injured Roberto Baggio had been left out by coach Arrigo Sacchi, who instead decided to let Baggio play.

He played in all three group games at Euro 96, and missed a penalty against Germany as Italy surprisingly crashed out in the first round. He scored the only goal of the game in a World Cup qualifying match against England at Wembley in February 1997, and won his final cap for Italy in the return fixture against England in Rome in October 1997. He retired from international football after he was not called up for the 1998 World Cup, finishing with 35 total caps and ten goals.


See also: List of Gianfranco Zola goals
Season Prem FA Cup League Cup Europe Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
1996-97 23 8 7 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 30 12
1997-98 27 8 1 0 4 0 8 4 1 0 41 12
1998-99 37 13 6 1 0 0 6 1 0 0 49 15
1999-00 33 4 5 1 0 0 15 3 0 0 53 8
2000-01 36 9 3 2 1 1 2 0 1 0 43 12
2001-02 35 3 6 1 5 0 4 1 0 0 50 5
2002-03 38 14 3 2 3 0 2 0 0 0 46 16
Total 229 59 31 11 13 1 37 9 2 0 312 80

Career honours


Torres Calcio

FA Cup:

League Cup:

FA Charity Shield:

UEFA Cup Winners' Cup:

UEFA Super Cup:

Cagliari Calcio




Cagliari Calcio
Player of the Year
1967: Bonetti | 1968: Cooke | 1969: Webb | 1970: Hollins | 1971: Hollins | 1972: Webb | 1973: Osgood | 1974: Locke
1975: Cooke | 1976: Wilkins | 1977: Wilkins | 1978: Droy | 1979: Langley | 1980: Walker | 1981: Borota | 1982: Fillery
1983: Jones | 1984: Nevin | 1985: Speedie | 1986: Niedzwiecki | 1987: Nevin | 1988: Dorigo | 1989: Roberts
1990: Monkou | 1991: Townsend | 1992: Elliott | 1993: Sinclair | 1994: Clarke | 1995: Johnsen | 1996: Gullit
1997: Hughes | 1998: Wise | 1999: Zola | 2000: Wise | 2001: Terry | 2002: Cudicini | 2003: Zola | 2004: Lampard
2005: Lampard | 2006: Terry | 2007: Essien | 2008: J.Cole | 2009: Lampard | 2010: Drogba | 2011: Čech | 2012: Mata
2013: Mata | 2014: Hazard
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