Gianfranco Zola

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Gianfranco Zola
Zola & Benitez Upton Park 09May09 - crop.jpg
Zola as manager of West Ham United in 2009
Personal information
Full nameGianfranco Zola
Date of birth(1966-07-05) 5 July 1966 (age 48)
Place of birthOliena, Italy
Height1.68 m (5 ft 6 in)
Playing positionForward
Youth career
1980–1983Corrasi Oliena
Senior career*
National team
Teams managed
2008–2010West Ham United
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).
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Gianfranco Zola
Zola & Benitez Upton Park 09May09 - crop.jpg
Zola as manager of West Ham United in 2009
Personal information
Full nameGianfranco Zola
Date of birth(1966-07-05) 5 July 1966 (age 48)
Place of birthOliena, Italy
Height1.68 m (5 ft 6 in)
Playing positionForward
Youth career
1980–1983Corrasi Oliena
Senior career*
National team
Teams managed
2008–2010West Ham United
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Gianfranco Zola, OBE,[2] Ufficiale OMRI[3] (Italian pronunciation: [dʒanˈfraŋko ˈddzɔːla]; born 5 July 1966) is an Italian former footballer, who played predominantly as a forward, and is currently a football manager.

He spent the first decade of his playing career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli, alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, and at Parma, where he was able to win the Serie A title, the Italian Supercup, and the UEFA Cup. He later moved to English side Chelsea, where he was voted the Football Writers' Player of the Year in the 1996–97 season. During his time at the club, he won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, the UEFA Supercup, two FA Cups, the League Cup, and the Community Shield. In 2003 he was voted Chelsea's greatest player ever.[4] He was capped 35 times for Italy from his debut in 1991, appearing at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, where Italy finished in second place, and Euro 96. During his playing career, Zola was primarily used as a supporting striker or as a playmaking attacking midfielder, also being deployed as a winger on occasion.[5] A creative and technical player, Zola was renowned for his ball control, his skilful dribbling ability, vision, and passing ability, as well as his eye for goal.[6] His small stature allowed him to be extremely quick and agile, which, along with his acceleration and ball skills, enabled him to change direction with the ball very quickly in tight spaces, and allowed him to beat defenders in one on one situations.[7] Zola was also a penalty kick and set piece specialist, who was particularly renowned for his accuracy at bending direct free-kicks.[8] Zola was given the nickname "Magic box" whilst playing at Chelsea,[9] and in 2007, Zola was voted the 2nd best "footballing artist" in Premier League history.[10]

Zola began his managerial career with West Ham United in 2008 in the Premier League, after a stint with the Italian U-21s, before being sacked in 2010. Zola most recently became manager of Watford in July 2012 until he announced his resignation on 16 December 2013.

Club career[edit]


Born in Oliena, Zola signed his first professional contract with Sardinian team Nuorese in 1984. In 1986, he moved to the Sassari-based team Torres, where he spent three seasons. In 1989, he signed for Napoli in Serie A. The young and talented Zola scored two goals as understudy to Diego Maradona as Napoli won the Serie A 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."[11]

Zola helped Napoli to win the Supercoppa Italiana in 1991 and he made his debut for the Italian national side under coach Arrigo Sacchi in the same year, winning his first cap against Norway in November. In 1993, Zola left Napoli and joined fellow Serie A side Parma. He won the UEFA Cup with Parma and the Italian Cup in 1995. It was with the blue and yellow club that he cemented his reputation as a creative player. Ironically, manager Carlo Ancelotti came to see Zola as a "square peg" unable to fit into his rigid system.[12] Zola was played out of position and ultimately made available for transfer and moved to Chelsea.


In November 1996, Zola joined Chelsea for £4.5 million as one of several continental players signed by Ruud Gullit and was assigned the number 25 jersey. He made his debut in a 1–1 draw with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. 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 in the 1996–97 season, helping them win the FA Cup with a 2–0 win over Middlesbrough at Wembley Stadium 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 memorable goal of individual skill 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.[13]

In the 1997–98 season, Zola 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 Stuttgart at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm,[14] but he came on as a second-half substitute and scored the winning goal after barely 30 seconds.[15] With only his second touch of the game, he struck a through ball from Dennis Wise 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.[16]

"Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and the wizard must try."
— Claudio Ranieri reflecting on Zola's back-heeled goal against Norwich in 2002.[17]

When Chelsea made their first appearance in the Champions League in 1999–2000, Zola was a key player throughout the campaign, although he found his chances in the Premier League more limited, owing to manager Gianluca Vialli's squad rotation policy. Zola scored three goals in Chelsea's run to the Champions League quarter-finals, including a curling free kick against Barcelona, and he 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 Eiður Guðjohnsen.

In the 2001–02 season, Zola's starting chances became limited, after a summer when Claudio Ranieri showed the door to many of Chelsea's ageing stars such as club captain Dennis Wise, goalscoring midfielder Gustavo Poyet and French defender Frank Leboeuf. Zola was limited to infrequent starts and many substitute appearances due to Ranieri's new policy of decreasing the average age of the Chelsea squad, preferring to play the gifted Icelandic youngster Gudjohnsen with Hasselbaink, though Zola 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".[18]

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, beating four Liverpool players during a fantastic dribble late on in the match, gaining applause from both sets of fans. This would become the final class moment of his Chelsea career. 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.[2] In 2005, Zola was voted into the Chelsea F.C. Centenary Eleven, occupying one of the two forward roles. No other Chelsea player has held Zola's number 25 shirt since his departure, prompting some to report that the squad number has been retired.[19] Despite such reports, the club has not officially withdrawn it from circulation.[citation needed]

Return to Italy[edit]

In the summer of 2003, amid rumours of an impending takeover at Chelsea, Zola left Stamford Bridge to join Cagliari, the most important club from his native Sardinia. Within a week Chelsea was acquired by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

It was reported that Abramovich tried to buy the entire Cagliari club[20] when Zola refused to renege on his verbal contract with Cagliari, although Zola himself will not confirm it.[21] 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 2005, after ending his career in appropriate style with a double against Juventus in his last ever professional game. His number 10 Cagliari jersey was withdrawn in his honour for the season after he left but was worn in the 2006–07 season by Andrea Capone.[22]

International career[edit]

Zola made his debut for Italy on 13 November 1991, in a Euro 1992 qualifier against Norway, which ended 1–1. He appeared at the 1994 World Cup, making one appearance in the second round against Nigeria. After only a few minutes, Zola was sent off, after 'fouling' Augustine Eguavoen, which forced him to miss the two subsequent World Cup matches. He did not regain his place in the side after this suspension.[23] His first two goals came on 25 March 1995, in a 4–1 in a Euro 1996 qualifier against Estonia.

Zola played in all three group games at Euro 1996, 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. He retired from international play after he was not called up for the 1998 World Cup, finishing with 35 total caps and ten goals.[1]

Other work[edit]

In his playing career, Zola played 628 games and scored 193 goals. Despite speculation he would play on in the 2005–06 season, Zola decided to leave the game just a week before he turned 39, and took a job as an Italian football pundit. Rumours were circulating within Australia that Zola was being chased by several A-League clubs, including Sydney, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory, about a possible comeback,[24] but Zola quashed such rumours.[25] He did, however, play a charity match in Sydney in December 2006, appearing in both Marconi Stallions and APIA colours. Zola also played against Shrewsbury Town in the first match at their New Meadow stadium for "A-line Allstars" on 14 July 2007 as part of a kit sponsorship deal between the club and A-line, who made Zola's boots.[26]

Managerial career[edit]

Italy U21[edit]

In 2006, Zola started his coaching career, being appointed as assistant manager to Italy U-21 manager and Pierluigi Casiraghi by the Italian Football Federation.[27] The duo led the azzurrini to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where they reached the quarter-finals before being defeated 3–2 by Belgium U-21.

West Ham United[edit]

Zola signing autographs after a match at the Boleyn Ground on 9 May 2009

On 7 September 2008, it was reported that Zola had been interviewed in Rome for the vacant manager's position at West Ham United and had "impressed the Club's representatives" at the interview. Two days later, he agreed a three-year contract to manage West Ham United, replacing Alan Curbishley, who resigned following differences with the board. He was unveiled as manager on 11 September, despite not having the required UEFA A managing licence. Zola, surprisingly for someone closely associated with West Ham's cross-town rivals Chelsea, quickly gained the backing of the fans. Nevertheless, he received applause from Chelsea fans whenever he returned to Stamford Bridge as West Ham manager.[28] After a shaky start Zola began to develop a side with a flair not seen in a West Ham side for some years.[29]

Zola also received praise for integrating more youth products into the first team.[30] The likes of Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines were given their debuts. The duo and first team youngsters Jack Collison and James Tomkins all scored their first goals for the club during his tenure. In April 2009, Zola signed a contract that could have kept him at Upton Park until 2013.[31]

West Ham struggled in the 2009–10 season. Zola's position as manager was put in doubt when he revealed he had not been consulted over a bid for West Bromwich Albion player Graham Dorrans and by chairman David Sullivan's announcement that the entire squad was for sale except for midfielder Scott Parker. West Ham finished in 17th place, only five points above the relegation places.[32] On 11 May 2010, two days after the end of the 2009–10 season, West Ham announced the termination of Zola's contract with immediate effect.[33] Avram Grant was announced as his successor on 3 June 2010, and a week later it was announced that the club had reached a compensation settlement with Zola.[34]


Zola was strongly linked with the managerial position at Watford in 2012, following the club's takeover by Udinese and Granada owner Giampaolo Pozzo. He was confirmed as Watford manager on 7 July, signing a two-year contract.[35]

In his first season, Zola led Watford to 3rd place and a play-off position, which then saw them progress to the final at Wembley. There, they lost 1-0 to 5th place side Crystal Palace after extra-time.[36] On 16 December 2013, Zola resigned as Watford manager.[37] At the time of his resignation, Watford were 13th in the league, had not won since October 2013 and had lost their last five home games.[38]

Career statistics[edit]

Correct as of 31 May 2006[39]

Club performanceLeagueCupLeague CupContinentalTotal
ItalyLeagueCoppa ItaliaLeague CupEuropeTotal
1984–85NuoreseSerie C240––––––40
1985–86Serie D2710––––––2710
1986–87Sassari TorresSerie C2308––––––308
1987–88Serie C1242––––––242
1989–90Napoli[40]Serie A18261––20182
1993–94ParmaSerie A3318––13318
EnglandLeagueFA CupLeague CupEuropeTotal
1996–97ChelseaPremier League2387400––3012
ItalyLeagueCoppa ItaliaLeague CupEuropeTotal
2003–04CagliariSerie B4313?0––––4313
2004–05Serie A319?4––––319
Career total62919324111313411715216


Italy national team


As of match played 14 December 2013.[42]
West Ham United15 September 200811 May 20108023213628.75
Watford7 July 201216 December 20137533152744.00

Personal life[edit]

Zola lives in Orpington and is married to Franca with three children; his son Andrea plays for Grays Athletic and has played for West Ham reserves.[43]






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  36. ^
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  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ Gianfranco Zola management career stats at Soccerbase
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  45. ^ "The 2013/14 Chelsea Player of the Year awards ceremony takes place on Monday 12 May, with tickets for the event on sale now.". Chelsea FC. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  46. ^ "Chelsea Centenary XI". Chelsea F.C. 4 August 2005. Retrieved 30 June 2011. [dead link]

External links[edit]