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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 name Gianfranco Zola
Date of birth (1966-07-05) 5 July 1966 (age 49)
Place of birth Oliena, Italy
Height 1.68 m (5 ft 6 in)
Playing position Forward
Club information
Current team
Al-Arabi (manager)
Youth career
1980–1983 Corrasi Oliena
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1984–1986 Nuorese 31 (10)
1986–1989 Torres 88 (21)
1989–1993 Napoli 105 (32)
1993–1996 Parma 102 (49)
1996–2003 Chelsea 229 (59)
2003–2005 Cagliari 74 (22)
Total 629 (193)
National team
1991–1997[1] Italy 35 (10)
Teams managed
2008–2010 West Ham United
2011–2012 Italy U16
2012–2013 Watford
2014–2015 Cagliari
2015– Al-Arabi

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Gianfranco Zola, OBE,[2] Ufficiale OMRI[3] (Italian pronunciation: [dʒaɱˈfraŋko ˈdzɔːla]; born 5 July 1966) is an Italian former footballer, who played predominantly as a forward. After retirement from playing he became a manager, most recently at Al-Arabi.

He spent the first decade of his playing career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli, alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, where he was able to win the Serie A title, and at Parma, where he won 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.

After a stint with Italy Under-21, Zola began his club managerial career with West Ham United of the Premier League in 2008 in the Premier League, before being sacked in 2010. He was manager of Watford from July 2012 until he announced his resignation on 16 December 2013. From December 2014 to March 2015 he managed Cagliari in Serie A.

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. He was noticed by Luciano Moggi in Serie C1 in 1989, he signed for Napoli in Serie A for 2 billion Lire, making his debut that year.[5] The young and talented Zola scored two goals as understudy to Diego Maradona as Napoli won the Serie A title in 1990, the only league title of Zola's career.[5][6] Zola scored his first goal against Atalanta, whilst his second goal was scored against Genoa, during injury time, which allowed Napoli to win 2-1 and maintain a two-point lead over Milan, who were Napoli's main title contenders, in second place.[5] Zola was excited by the transfer, and he developed an important friendship with Maradona, who commented "Finally they have bought someone shorter than me!"[6] 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."[6][7]

Zola helped Napoli to win the Supercoppa Italiana in 1990, partnering alongside Careca following Maradona's drug ban during the second part of the 1990-91 season, as Napoli finished in a disappointing seventh place. Due to his individual performances, however, Zola was given his debut for the Italian national side under coach Arrigo Sacchi in 1991, winning his first cap against Norway in November.[8] He temporarily inherited Maradona's number 10 shirt the following season under manager Claudio Ranieri, after the Argentina superstar parted ways with the club due to his ban, scoring 12 goals in 34 appearances; upon his departure, Maradona had recommended that the Napoli management focus on Zola's development, stating: "Napoli doesn't need to look for anyone to replace me, the team already has Zola!".[5] In his final season with the club, he managed 12 goals in 33 league appearances, and he also finished the 1992–93 Serie A season as the joint top assist provider in the league, with 12 assists, alongside Francesco Baiano.[9] During his time in Napoli, Zola scored a total of 32 goals in 105 appearances.[5]

In 1993, Zola left Napoli and joined fellow Serie A side Parma for 13 billion lire, due to poor economic situation of the Neapolitan club.[10] He was initially accused of betraying the club by the fans,[5] although Zola denied this, noting that Corrado Ferlaino had also been forced to sell other important Napoli players such as Thern, Ferrara and Fonseca, in order to overcome the club's debts.[10] With Parma, he established himself as one of the league's top players, and he achieved notable domestic and European success; he came close to winning another Serie A title, in particular during the 1994-95 season, in which he scored 19 goals in a close fought title-race with rivals Juventus, although he ultimately failed to do so.[11][12][13] In his first season, he scored 18 league goals, and with the club, he won the UEFA Supercup in 1993, and the UEFA Cup in 1995 with Parma, and he also reached the final of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, as well as the finals of the Italian Cup and the Supercoppa Italiana in 1995. It was with the blue and yellow club that he cemented his reputation as one of the best and most talented creative players in Italy, along with Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero.[11][12][13] Ironically, his creative role would create problems during his time at Parma. During the 1995-96 season, he initially experienced a rivalry with Bulgarian forward Hristo Stoichkov, who played the same tactical role as Zola; as a result, Zola would begin to be deployed in the starting eleven with less frequency, losing his place in the squad, despite scoring 10 league goals.[5] During the following season, manager Carlo Ancelotti came to see Zola as a "square peg" unable to fit into his rigid 4-4-2 system upon his arrival at the club in 1996.[14] Zola was played out of position in a left midfield role, scoring only 2 goals, as Ancelotti preferred to play Crespo and Chiesa up-front.[6][15] Tired of playing in this role, Zola ultimately made himself available for a transfer at the end of the first half of the season, and moved to Premier League side Chelsea in November. In total, Zola made 102 league appearances with Parma, scoring 49 goals.[5]


Zola's No.25 Chelsea shirt, on display at the club museum

In November 1996, Zola joined Chelsea for £4.5 million as one of several continental players signed by Ruud Gullit (including compatriot Gianluca Vialli) 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 demonstrated his skill and talent, and put in several notable performances, scoring a series of memorable goals.[16] 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.[16][17][18] 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.[19]

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,[20] but he still played an important part in Chelsea's victory, as he came on as a second-half substitute and scored the winning goal after barely 30 seconds.[21] 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.[5][22] 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.[23]

"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.[24]

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. During the 2000-01 Premier League season, Zola managed 9 league goals.

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, scoring only 3 goals. 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. Zola did draw attention, however, for his dominant performance when he scored with a notable backheeled effort in mid-air from a corner-kick, in an FA Cup tie against Norwich City on the 16th January 2002.[25][26] Manager Claudio Ranieri described the goal as "fantasy, magic".[27]

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, scoring 59 goals in 229 Premier League appearances.[5] He subsequently decided to return to Italy during the following season.

In early 2003, Zola was voted as the best ever Chelsea player by Chelsea's fans.[4] 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.[28] Despite such reports, the club has not officially withdrawn it from circulation.[citation needed] In 2007 Zola was also voted by the Sun one of the top ten best foreign "artistic" players in Premier League history, coming in second place, behind George Best.[29]

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[30] when Zola refused to renege on his verbal contract with Cagliari, although Zola himself will not confirm it.[31] 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.[32] Zola retired as the fifth highest goalscorer of free-kicks in Serie A history, with 20 goals from set-pieces, alongside Francesco Totti, and behind only Roberto Baggio (21), Alessandro Del Piero (22), Andrea Pirlo (27), and Siniša Mihajlović (28).[33]

International career[edit]

Zola made his debut for Italy on 13 November 1991 in Genova, under manager Arrigo Sacchi, at the age of 25, in a Euro 1992 qualifier against Norway, which ended 1–1.[8] He appeared at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, making one substitute appearance in the second round knock-out match against Nigeria in Boston. After only twelve minutes, Zola was controversially sent off, after 'fouling' Augustine Eguavoen, which forced him to miss the two subsequent World Cup matches.[34][35] Although Italy managed to reach the World Cup final, Zola did not regain his place in the side after this suspension.[36] His first two goals came on 25 March 1995, in a 4–1 win, in a Euro 1996 qualifier against Estonia in Salerno.[37][1]

Zola was called up for Euro 1996, and he played in all three group games at the tournament. He notably missed a potential match-winning penalty in a 0-0 draw against eventual champions Germany as Italy surprisingly crashed out in the first round; the win would have allowed Italy to progress to the quarter-finals of the tournament.[38] He scored the only goal of the game in an historic 1-0 victory over England in a 1998 World Cup qualifying match at Wembley, on the 12th February 1997.[39] He won his final cap for Italy in the return fixture against England in Rome on the 11th October 1997, which ended in a draw.[1][40] He retired from international play after he was not called up for the 1998 World Cup by manager Cesare Maldini, who had selected Del Piero and Roberto Baggio in his role. Zola finished his international career with a total of 35 caps and ten goals.[1][40]

International goals[edit]

Scores and results list Italy's goal tally first.[41][1]
# Date Venue Opponent Score Result Competition
1. 25 March 1995 Stadio Arechi, Salerno  Estonia 1–0 4–1 Euro 1996 qualifier
2. 3–0
3. 29 March 1995 Republikan Stadium, Kiev  Ukraine 2–0 2–0 Euro 1996 qualifier
4. 26 April 1995 Žalgiris Stadium, Vilnius  Lithuania 1–0 1–0 Euro 1996 qualifier
5. 15 November 1995 Stadio Giglio, Reggio Emilia  Lithuania 2–0 4–0 Euro 1996 qualifier
6. 3–0
7. 4–0
8. 22 January 1997 Stadio La Favorita, Palermo  Northern Ireland 1–0 2–0 Friendly
9. 12 February 1997 Wembley Stadium, London  England 1–0 1–0 1998 World Cup qualifier
10. 29 March 1997 Stadio Nereo Rocco, Trieste  Moldova 2–0 3–0 1998 World Cup qualifier

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,[42] but Zola quashed such rumours.[43] 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.[44]

Managerial career[edit]

Italy U21[edit]

In 2006, Zola started his coaching career, being appointed as assistant manager to Italy U21 manager and Pierluigi Casiraghi by the Italian Football Federation.[45] 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.[46] After a shaky start Zola began to develop a side with a flair not seen in a West Ham side for some years.[47]

Zola also received praise for integrating more youth products into the first team.[48] 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.[49]

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.[50] 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.[51] 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.[52]


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.[53]

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.[54] On 16 December 2013, Zola resigned as Watford manager.[55] 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.[56]


On 24 December 2014, Zola was appointed as the new manager of Cagliari following Zdeněk Zeman's dismissal.[57] In his first match in charge, on 6 January 2015, Cagliari lost 0–5 at Palermo with Daniele Conti being sent off in the first half, the result keeping the club in the relegation zone.[58] Two days later he completed his first transfer as manager of the club, taking centre-back Alejandro González on loan from fellow Serie A club Hellas Verona.[59] Zola won his first game on 11 January 2015, a 2–1 win over Cesena.[60] After less than three months as Cagliari's manager, Zola was sacked on 9 March 2015, after being unable to escape the relegation zone after 10 matches; following his dismissal, Zeman was reinstated as Cagliari's manager.[61]


On 11 July 2015, Zola was appointed coach of Qatar team Al-Arabi.[62]

Style of play[edit]

During his playing career, Zola was primarily used as a supporting striker or as a playmaking attacking midfielder, due to his ability to create chances for team-mates; he was also deployed as a winger or as a striker on occasion.[63] A creative and technically gifted player, Zola was renowned for his ball control, his skilful dribbling ability, vision, and passing ability, as well as his eye for goal.[29] His small stature and low centre of gravity gave him good balance and 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.[4] Zola was also a penalty kick and set piece specialist, who was particularly renowned for his accuracy at bending direct free-kicks.[64] Zola was given the nickname "Magic box" whilst playing at Chelsea.[64] Zola is regarded as one of the best Italian creative forwards of his generation, and as one of the best players in Premier League history.[65]

Career statistics[edit]

Correct as of 31 May 2006[66]

Club performance League Cup League Cup Continental Total
Season Club League Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Italy League Coppa Italia League Cup Europe Total
1984–85 Nuorese Serie C2 4 0 –– –– –– 4 0
1985–86 Serie D 27 10 –– –– –– 27 10
1986–87 Sassari Torres Serie C2 30 8 –– –– –– 30 8
1987–88 Serie C1 24 2 –– –– –– 24 2
1988–89 34 11 –– –– –– 34 11
1989–90 Napoli[67] Serie A 18 2 6 1 –– 2 0 18 2
1990–91 20 6 7 0 –– 2 0 20 6
1991–92 34 12 4 1 –– –– 34 12
1992–93 33 12 6 2 –– 4 0 33 12
1993–94 Parma Serie A 33 18 –– 1 33 18
1994–95 32 19 4 –– 5 32 19
1995–96 29 10 –– 3 2 32 12
1996–97 8 2 –– 8 2
England League FA Cup League Cup Europe Total
1996–97 Chelsea Premier League 23 8 7 4 0 0 –– 30 12
1997–98 27 8 1 0 4 0 8 4 40 12
1998–99 37 13 6 1 0 0 5 1 48 15
1999–2000 33 4 5 1 0 0 15 3 53 8
2000–01 36 9 3 2 1 1 2 0 42 12
2001–02 35 3 6 1 5 0 4 1 50 5
2002–03 38 14 3 2 3 0 2 0 46 16
Italy League Coppa Italia League Cup Europe Total
2003–04 Cagliari Serie B 43 13 ? 0 –– –– 43 13
2004–05 Serie A 31 9 ? 4 –– –– 31 9
Total Italy 400 134 –––– 3 2 403 136
England 229 59 24 11 13 1 31 9 312 80
Career total 629 193 24 11 13 1 34 11 715 216


Italy national team
Year Apps Goals
1991 2 0
1992 1 0
1993 1 0
1994 6 0
1995 8 7
1996 8 0
1997 9 3
Total 35 10


As of match played 7 March 2015.[69]
Team From To Record
G W D L Win %
West Ham United 15 September 2008 11 May 2010 80 23 21 36 28.75
Watford 7 July 2012 16 December 2013 75 33 15 27 44.00
Cagliari 24 December 2014 9 March 2015 10 2 2 6 20.00
Total 165 58 38 69 35.15

Personal life[edit]

Zola is married to Franca and has three children; his son Andrea plays for Grays Athletic and has played for West Ham United reserves.[70]






Zola features in EA Sports' FIFA video game series; he was named in the Ultimate Team Legends in FIFA 14.[77]


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