Gianfranco Zola was an Italian footballer who predominantly played as a forward. He chose to become a manager after retiring from professional football and has been adorning the position of a manager of Al-Arabi, a Doha-based football team that plays in the Qatar Stars League.
Club football: 629 matches, 193 goals
National team: 35 matches, 10 goals
Gianfranco Zola, who was born in Oliena, Italy on July 5, 1966, started playing professional football in 1984 for the Sardinian soccer team Nuorese. After spending a couple of years playing for his first team, he signed a contract with Torres, a team based in Sassari. He spent a total of three seasons with Torres.
In 1989, during his final season with the team, Zola was noticed by the legendary Italian football administrator Luciano Moggi, who at that time was associated with Napoli. Moggi noticed the young football sensation in Serie C1. In the same year, he was signed by Napoli for the upcoming season in Serie A; he was paid a sum of 2 million Lire for this signing.
Successful Stint with Napoli
He played his debut match for Napoli in 1989. The immensely talented Zola scored a couple of goals to help Napoli win the 1990 Serie A title. Soon, the team officials started considering him as the perfect substitute of the legendary Argentinean footballer Diego Maradona.
This transfer changed Zola’s professional football career completely. His friendship with Diego Maradona also played a significant role in shaping his career. The Argentinean had a huge influence on him and his playing career. They used to practice free kicks together for hours.
Gianfranco Zola was the main reason why Napoli won the 1990 Supercoppa Italiana. Due to the drug ban of Maradona during the 2nd half of the 1990-91 season, Napoli just managed to get the seventh spot on the league table. However, the individual performance of Zola was again the topic of discussion in the football world.
When the Argentina legend had to end his stint with Napoli due to the ban, he suggested that instead of looking for a substitute, Napoli should concentrate on helping Zola to grow.
In the 1992-93 Serie A season, which happens to be Zola’s final season with Napoli, he made a total of 33 league appearances and scored 12 goals. The total number of goals the Italian football star managed to score during his stint with Napoli is 32 (he made a total of 105 appearances for the club).
After leaving Napoli, Zola started playing for another Serie A team: Parma. He was signed for a whopping amount of 13 billion Lire.
Life at Chelsea
Gianfranco Zola’s stint at Parma was also quite successful, which made him an International football sensation. After spending three seasons at Parma, he was signed by Chelsea in November 1996 for a massive amount of £4.5 million. Zola was one of the main players responsible for the club’s resurgence during the 1996-97 season.
He along with some other talented names in the team, helped Chelsea to win the final match of the famous FA Cup; the match was played against Middlesbrough and it was a 2-0 win. Zola’s performance was amazing all through the tournament. He scored a total of four goals to take his team to the final. Due to his incredible performance throughout the season, Zola was picked as the FWA Player of the Year through public voting. To date, he is the only player who managed to win this coveted award in spite of not playing the full season.
Gianfranco Zola’s next season with Chelsea was equally awesome. He helped the club to win three trophies, the Super Cup, the Cup Winners Cup, and the League Cup. It’s true that he couldn’t play the first half of the Cup Winners Cup final due to an injury, but still, he was the main reason behind the team’s win. He joined the final eleven in the second half and scored the winning goal for his team within just 30 seconds of taking the field.
Zola remained the key player for Chelsea even when the club played the Champions League for the first time in 1999-2000. Three world class goals scored by him were the main reasons why the team managed to make the quarter-finals.
After having a few dry seasons, Gianfranco Zola again showcased a great performance in the 2002-2003 season by scoring a total of 16 goals for Chelsea. It was his final season with the club. He decided to join Cagliari, a football team based in Sardinia, amid rumors suggesting that Chelsea might be taken over. Chelsea was eventually taken over by Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire; the handover of the club took place just a week after Zola left it.
Zola also had a moderately impressive international career. With 35 caps to his name, he managed to score 10 goals.
By Rosa Nelson
FIFA – World Cup Official Film 1986