A Chelsea ambassador redisovering our past and exploring our evolving brand.
Gianfrance Zola started his playing career in Italy with Napoli, alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, where he was able to win the Serie A title, while at Parma, the italian Super Cup and the UEFA Cup. He emerged from Maradona's shadow when he moved to Parma and in 1996 Chelsea paid £4.5 million to acquire his services. At the time a number of foreign stars coming to the premiership were well past their best although Zola proved to be the exception.
He became the most popular of all of the foereign imports to have played in England as a result of his warm, engaging personality as well as his exceptional talent. These ambassadorial qualities and charity work earned him an honorary OBE in 2004 and his excellence on the field saw Chelsea fans vote hime as the club's best player of all time.
Zola and Maradona at Napoli in the 1980's
Zola was awarded the 1997 Footballer of the Year award and a year later scored the goal that beat Stuttgart in the European Winner's Cup final
Zola signed off at the end of the 2002-2003 season and wound down his career back in Italy with Cagliari, retiring in 2005.
Zola's surreal display of talent at Chelsea
Zola's impact on Ruud Gullit's squad was undeniable as they won the FA Cup and finished sixth in the Premier League and subsequently became the only play to be acclaimed as Footballer of the Year without playing a full season. He was not a prolific scorer though, more the match-winner as playmaker, but the goals he conjured were memorable, involving dazzling dribbles, improbable turns and cheeky back-heels. His free kicks were phenomonal as well and taught the likes of Frank Lampard on how to strike the ball with optimum force.
In 1997-98, Zola scored the famous winner in the European Cup-Winners'"Cup final against Stuttgart. The following season, when Gianluca Vialli took Chelsea into the Champions league he was on target against Galatasaray, Feyenoord and Barcelona during their run to the quarler finals.
Zola turned 36 in the summer of 2002 and the following season was to be his last at the club. However, he scored 16 goals before departing, his personal best in six-and-a-half-years in English football. In all, he scored 80 goals in 312 appearances for Chelsea.