Epic Sports Legend : Gianfranco ZOLA

Gianfranco Zola, Italy, 1966

Epic Sports Legend

Italian magician Gianfranco Zola is one of the most admired footballers in the world for not just how he played, but for the spirit in how he played the beautiful game.

Zola was something of a late starter to professional football making his name at Napoli learning his trade as understudy to the legendary Diego Maradona in Naples. He helped Napoli win the Serie A title in his first season at the club before eventually inheriting the Argentine’s famous No.10 shirt following his departure from Italy.

Zola left Napoli to join Parma in 1993 and he continued to make a name for himself by helping Parma establish themselves as a force at home and abroad as they won the UEFA Super Cup in 1993, and the UEFA Cup in 1995.

Zola was named in sixth place in the 1995 Ballon d’Or standings in 1995.

The diminutive attacker surprisingly was sold by Parma to Chelsea in the Premier League in November 1996 and it was at Stamford Bridge where Zola left a lasting legacy.
In his seven seasons at Chelsea Zola won two FA Cups, the Cup Winners’ Cup (where he scored the winning goal in the final), the League Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

As well as his team honours Zola won several individual honours at Chelsea being voted FWA Player of the Year in 1997, becoming the only player ever to win the accolade without playing a full season in the English league, while also being named the club’s Player of the Year on two occasions.

"Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and the wizards must try."

Claudio Ranieri about Zola after his back-heeled volley against Norwich, 2002

Affectionately nicknamed “Magic box” at Chelsea, Zola was named the club’s greatest ever player in 2003, after making 312 appearances for the Blues and scoring 80 goals. Zola was given the prestigious honour of being awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the Queen in 2004 for his services to football which illustrated the esteem he was held in in England.

After leaving Chelsea in 2003 Zola returned to his native Sardinia to join Cagliari and he spent two seasons at the club, helping them win promotion to Serie A.

On the international scene Zola made his Italy debut in 1991and went on to win 35 caps for his country, scoring 10 goals and representing the Azzuri at the 1994 World Cup and Euro 96.

After hanging his boots up in 2005 Zola took his first foray into coaching with Italy’s Under-21s before being handed his first manager’s role at West Ham United in the Premier League.

Zola went on to manage Watford, Cagliari, Al Arabi, Birmingham with his last role in coaching coming as Maurizio Sarri’s assistant at Chelsea during the 2018/19 season where he helped the club win the 2019 Europa League.

Zola is regarded as one of the best Italian forwards of his generation and as one of the best players in Premier League history where his affable attitude to football also made him one of the most respected players even among opposition fans.

Club Career

  • 1980-83 : Corrasi Oliena
  • 1984-86 : Nuorese
  • 1986-89 : Torres
  • 1989-93 : Napoli
  • 1993-96 : Parma
  • 1996-03 : Chelsea
  • 2003-05 : Cagliari

National Team

  • 1991-97 : Italia

Manager Career

  • 2006-08 : Italia U21 (Assistant Coach)
  • 2008-10 : West Ham
  • 2011-12 : Italy U16
  • 2012-13 : Watford
  • 2014-15 : Cagliari
  • 2015-16 : Al-Arabi
  • 2016-17 : Birmingham City
  • 2018-19 : Chelsea (Assistant Coach)

National & International Honours

  • 1990 : Serie A
  • 1993 : European Super Cup
  • 1994 : Silver medal USA 1994 World Cup
  • 1995 : UEFA CUP
  • 1997 : FA CUP
  • 1998 : Football League Cup
  • 1998 : UEFA Super Cup
  • 1998 : UEFA Cup winners’ Cup
  • 2000 : FA CUP
  • 2000 : Charity Shield
  • 2019 : Europa League

Individual Honours

  • 1995 : ESM Team of the Year
  • 1997 : FWA Footballer of the Year
  • 1997 : Player of the Month
  • 1999 : Chelsea Player of the Year
  • 2003 : Chelsea Player of the Year
  • 2003 : Player of the Month
  • 2003 : Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana
  • 2004 : Officer of the Order of the British Empire
  • 2005 : Silver Ball
  • 2005 : Chelsea Centernary XI
  • 2005 : Serie B
  • 2005 : Premio internazionale carriera esemplare “Gaetano Scirea”
  • 2006 : English Football Hall of Fame
  • 2010 : Premio internazionale Giacinto Facchetti
  • 2010 : Man for the Peace

More pictures & histories

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