Gianfranco ZolaSorcerer's Apprentice
Legendary Sardinian playmaker Gianfranco Zola, OBE, was born 5 July 1966 in Oliena. He is currently the manager of English Championship club Watford.
Zola spent the first decade of his playing career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli and Parma, before moving to English Premier League side Chelsea.
At Napoli, the young and talented Zola was lucky enough to play in a squad boasting top South American talents such as Antonio Careca, Alemao and Daniel Fonseca, but more importantly, he was in the unique position to play understudy to the legendary Diego Maradona. Whilst distancing himself from most of Maradona's personal affairs, the young Zola gleaned as much as possible from the Argentine sorcerer on the field. The training sessions where the two forwards stayed on to practise penalties, swapping feet so Maradona would have a go with his less favoured right foot, while Zola shot with his left, became legendary. 'I learnt everything from Diego…I used to spy on him every time he trained and learned how to curl a free-kick just like him. After one year I had completely changed. I saw him do things in training and in matches I had never even dreamed possible. He was simply the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been a good player if I had not played with him at that stage of my career, but I do know I wouldn’t be the player I am now."
In November 1996, Zola made the decision to go to London and join Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea revolution. He quickly became a hero at Stamford Bridge, illuminating the English Premiership with his sublime skills. In February 1997, after running Manchester United's defence ragged, he was described by United manager Alex Ferguson as a 'clever little so-and-so.' He enjoyed seven very happy seasons with the Blues, scoring 80 goals, and was named Premier League Player of the Year in 1997 and Best Loved Chelsea Player Ever.
In equal measure to Zola's enviable playing ability, his professionalism, enthusiasm, dignity and humility made him a wonderful role model both on and off the field, which earned him huge affection and respect within and beyond the game. You'll be hard pressed to ever hear anything negative said about him, a sentiment echoed by former Blues Chairman Ken Bates - 'Zola was undoubtedly one of Chelsea’s greatest players ever. He’s been a joy to watch and a great influence both on and off the field, particularly because of his great interest with young fans. We owe him a hell of a lot of thanks.'
In 2002, towards the end of his tenure with Chelsea, he scored an incredible, mid-air, backheeled goal in an FA Cup tie against Norwich City, a goal that manager Claudio Ranieri described as 'fantasy, magic'. 'Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and the wizard must try.'