Gianfranco Zola, OBE, born July 5, 1966 in Oliena, Sardinia, is a retired Italian footballer. He spent the first decade of his career in Italy, most notably with Napoli and Parma, before moving to English side Chelsea, where he was voted Football Writers' Player of the Year in 1997. He was also capped for Italy and is currently joint coach of the Italian under-21s.
Early days in Italy
Zola signed his first professional contract with Sardinian team Nuorese in 1984. Five years later he signed for Napoli in Serie A. The young and talented Zola scored two goals as understudy to Diego Maradona as Napoli won the Italian 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." He helped Napoli to win the Italian Super Cup in 1991 and he made his debut for the Italian national side under coach Arrigo Sacchi in the same year. 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 the blue and yellow club 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. Zola was played out of position and ultimately made available for transfer.
In November 1996, Zola joined English Premier League club Chelsea F.C. for ú4.5m as one of several continental players signed by Ruud Gullit. 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." 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 FWA Player 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.
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 Rňsunda 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 Wohlfhart 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.
When Chelsea made their first appearance in the UEFA 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 FC 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 Eidur Gudjohnsen, though he 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." 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. 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.
Return to Italy and retirement
In the summer of 2003, amid rumours of an impending takeover at Chelsea, Zola left
CFC to join Cagliari, a club from his native Sardinia. Within a week CFC was purchased by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Unable to persuade Zola to renege on his verbal contract with Cagliari, Abramovich attempted to purchase the entire Cagliari club. His offer for the club was rejected. 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 of 2005, after ending his career in appropriate style with a double against Juventus in his last ever professional game. His number 10 jersey was retired by Cagliari, as was his number 25 jersey for Chelsea
Despite speculation he would play on in the 2005/2006 season, Zola decided to leave the game, just a week before he turned 39. He is currently an Italian football pundit, though he also comments on European competitions. He has also been named joint coach of the Italian Under-21 side with ex Chelsea player Pierluigi Casiraghi.
In his entire career, Zola played 627 games and scored 193 goals.
Rumours within Australia were circulating that Zola was being chased by several Hyundai A-League clubs (Australia's national league), including Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory, about a possible comeback,  but Zola has quashed such rumours. He did, however, play a charity match in Sydney on December 29, appearing in both Marconi and Apia colours.
Zola played for his country at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, making one appearance in the quarter-final against Nigeria. 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. Zola won 35 international caps, scoring 9 goals.
Honours and awards
Zola was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006 in recognition of his achievements in the English league.
Text and images from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. under theGNU Free Documentation License - Disclaimers. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that all information included in our website is accurate, users are advised that they should take appropriate precautions to verify such information. Y2U.co.uk expressly disclaims all liability for any direct, indirect or consequential loss or damage occasioned by the user's reliance on any statements, information, or advice contained in this web site. This Site is neither endorsed or connected in any way with organisations or individuals mentioned on this page. Published by Y2U.co.uk - Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FA_Premier_League"
'Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is' - Bill Shankly