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Zola, Gianfranco (1996-2003)


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Gianfranco Zola (1996-2003)

Written by Jimboola69 in June 2007

zola%20may%201997.jpg Very rarely in this life do we find something worthy of the title ‘perfection’. There is the Father Ted episode ‘Kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse’, that picture of dogs playing snooker and of course Gianfranco Zola with the ball at his feet. The way that he could drift past opponents, set up the perfect assist or even curl one in himself was more than a thing of beauty, it was the most welcome sight at Stamford since Ossie’s pal Rachel Welsh visited in the 70’s heydays.

But while perfection sums up Franco on the pitch, joy would be a more apt word to sum up his time in England.

This is a man rarely without a huge smile on his face while doing what came naturally to him, flair football. A man who described his appearances for Chelsea as ‘Happy Times’ on a T-shirt, and a man who after saying farewell to these shores and the club he loved at a press conference received a long and emotional standing ovation from the cynical members of ‘Her Majesties Gutter Press’. A man who embodied the ‘Sexy Football’ of the Gullit era at a club where for over a decade previous football had meant ‘kick and rush’ under such managers as Porterfield, Webb and very nearly Warnock. A club that had been noted for players like Rougvie, Vinny Jones and ‘deadly’ Dave Mitchell now had a little magician with Harry Potter hair, and a magic wand for a right foot (and his left wasn’t too shabby).

zola%20celebrates.jpg Joining for around £4.5m in November 1996 from Parma, the former Napoli star was originally dismissed by many respected British pundits as being too slight. Many believed that this small man with a skinny frame would never last in the hurly burley of English football. Of course what they had not considered while looking at the frame, was what was in the bonnet…dynamite!!!

Zola’s scintillating displays that season quickly won over the doubters and he went on to win the Football Writers Player of the Year Award. He was the first Chelsea player to win the award, and the first to win it having not played a full season. On-route to this award Zola helped Chelsea to the FA Cup victory, 2-0 over Middlesbrough. He also unleashed a sublime 25 yard curling shot against Liverpool in the rounds, helping to turn a 0-2 deficit into a 4-2 victory in a game that many Chelsea fans still to this day describe as one of the best they have ever witnessed.

zola%20lifts%20cup%20winners%20cup2.jpg Inspired by the little Italian, Chelsea now won trophy after trophy, adding a League Cup, Cup Winners Cup and a Super Cup to the FA Cup won in Zola’s first season.

Despite injury Zola even came on as a sub in the Cup Winners Cup Final, scoring the winning goal, and inspiring this writer to frantically wave his ‘Zola Power’ flag with all his might while singing the Italians name to the tune of the pop classic ‘Lola’. The joy was immeasurable for fans who had witnessed almost nothing but frustration, potential bankruptcy and electric fences in the largely potless years since Ossie, Hutch and the Cat reigned supreme at the Bridge in the 70’s.

zola%20freekick.jpg Although injury and new boss Vialli’s rotation policy curtailed appearances in the 99-00 season, he was instrumental in Chelsea reaching the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League including a curling free kick against Barcelona. Chelsea again won the FA Cup with Zola’s free kick ended in fellow Italian Di Matteo’s winning goal for Chelsea.

Although the 00-01 and 01-02 seasons saw Zola kept out of the team by a new pairing of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, this was the season that Zola scored what many Chelsea and non-Chelsea fans consider to be one of the best Premiership goals of all time with a cheeky back-heel flick from a corner, described by boss Ranieri as ‘magic’ and pundit Hansen as ‘truly sublime’.

zola%20asked%20about%20jamie%20carragher Now becoming little more than a fringe figure at the club, Zola agreed to sign for his boyhood and home club Cagliari in the next season. But when once more he had been written off Zola in his final season with Chelsea, enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance, scoring 16 goals, his highest seasonal tally for Chelsea and was voted the club's Player of the Year by an enamoured Chelsea support. Despite rumours that new owner Roman Abramovich would go as far as buying Cagliari in order to get Zola back to the Bridge, Zola only ever returned as a very welcome guest.

Gianfranco Zola was born July 5, 1966 in Oliena, Sardinia. 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. In 2005 Zola was voted into the Chelsea FC Centenary Eleven, occupying one of the two forward roles. He has a unique place in Chelsea history. We hope to see him back at Chelsea before very long.

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