A player whose name was being yelled at many legendary calcio stadiums
A footballer whose Italian feet graced the European pitches for twenty one year
A little magician who draws a smile on every spectatorÂ’s face
The artist who was an inspiration to many including Les Ferdinand and Frank Lampard while proving that age is just a number
The ex Blue who was labelled as a Â‘wizardÂ’ by the greatest manager ever Sir Alex Ferguson is no other than the one and only Gianfranco Ignatus Zola Omri Obe.
Behind the wonderfully graceful skills, trophies he garnered, and legacy he built, there is an inspiring story
Gianfranco Zola: The Italian artist.
The boyhood dream
Gianfranco was born in Oliena, a commune in the province of Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy
He was raised in a family that he shares the passion of Football with
His Father was a chairman at local club Corassi Oliena, in which he began his football career at a very young age.
When he turned 18 (1984), Franco signed his first professional contract for Nuoroese, a small club located in Nuoro
Despite being selected to play in midfield most of time, the Italian was impressively good at putting the ball in the net, scoring 10 goals in 31 apps for Nuoroese.
The young talent spent two years at the club then moved to another Sardinia based club, Sassari Torres
Zola led Torres to C2 championship in 1986, before getting discovered by Luciano Moggi, the notorious gangster who was SS NapoliÂ”s administrator.
Napoli: The golden era
In 1890/90, Gianfranco Zola joined European champions Serie A side Napoli
The club was feared by everyone at that time as it was thriving with the presence of the worldÂ’s best players at Naples such as the likes of Ciro Ferrara, Fernando De Napoli and of course, the great Diego Maradona
These names were amongst many others that led Napoli to itÂ’s first Serie A title (in 1986/87) and UEFA cup win (in 1988/89).
Zola was just a 23-year-old boy looking to prove himself in front of the San Paolo stadium fans and show that he deserves to play alongside the clubÂ’s stars
Hopes were high for the new comer, who went on to be named MaradonaÂ’s understudy in the starting line up during the ItalianÂ’s first season at his new home
FrancoÂ’s first campaign at Napoli was terrific for the club as it was named Serie A champion for itÂ’s first time ever (1989/90), making history once again
Unfortunately, Zola and his teammates couldn't maintain their outstanding league form and finished 8th in the next season
Gianfranco had already scored 8 goals in 2 seasons, despite not being a regular starter.
His performances were rewarded by Azzurri manager Arrigo Sacchi, who handed Zola his international debut on 13 November 1991 in Genova at the age of 25, in a Euro 1992 qualifier against Norway which ended 11.
In 1991/92, and after MaradonaÂ’s departure to Spain due to bad relationship with NapoliÂ’s board and the Italian association, Gianfranco became one of NapoliÂ’s key players
The 25-year-old was up to the standards and scored 11 goals in the league
His brilliant displays and CarecaÂ’s astonishing performances placed the blues at the fourth place on the Serie A table.
The following season was absolutely disastrous for Napoli, who got extremely close to a shock relegation to Serie B, and only held on to its top-flight status by two points
ZolaÂ’s brilliant offensive skills were one of the main reasons why the club survived the fall
The teamÂ’s extremely poor performances didn't take away ZolaÂ’s splendidness, as the Italian scored 12 goals in that campaign and was the leagueÂ’s Top-assist provider.
After spending 4 seasons in Naples, Parma came knocking on the door in order to get ZolaÂ’s signature, and the player eventually left Partenopei.
Gianfranco, the young boy who came from a small town to play alongside football legends, left the blue empire like a king of complete integrity, and will always be remembered as a player who was made in Napoli.
Parma: New club, same old Gianfranco!
Gianfranco joined European champions Parma Calcio 1913 Srl
The club was living itÂ’s best days and around a new set players, Zola kept improving
The italian scored 23 goals and helped the team earn a top four finish and win the Uefa cup beating Italian rivals Juventus in the final
Zola was included in the Italian squad for the 1994 World cup in the United States
He featured as a substitute in AzzurriÂ’s second round knock-out stage versus Nigeria
After only twelve minutes, Franco was sent off, which forced him to miss the next two World Cup matches
Although Italy managed to reach the World Cup final, Zola did not regain his place in the side after this suspension.
The yellow and bluesÂ’ 95/96 campaign wasnÂ’t as successful as the previous ones as the club went trophyless that season and saw legendary coach Nevio Scala stepping down
The forward scored 12 goals for his club and His first two for his country on 25 March 1995, in a 41 win against Estonia.
At the end of the season, Zola joined Chelsea for Â€4.5m after two successful seasons at Parma, scoring 49 goals in 102 appearances.
Chelsea: The Italian renaissance
In 96/97, ChelseaÂ’s new manager Ruud Guillit aimed on bringing multiple Italian players to the club: Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola, who all left their home nation and moved to London.
The new comers widened ChelseaÂ’s fanbase and brought to the team the magic it needed to be able to compete for title
Zola made an instant impact at Chelsea, being named Premier League player of the month on his second month at the club (December 1996) and scoring 11 goals which helped Chelsea win the FA cup and finish sixth in the league
In addition to that, the Italian was named Football Writers Association player of the year of 1997.
In 97/98, manager Ruud Gullit was sacked on 12 February following a dispute with chairman Ken Bates and was replaced with squad player Gianluca Vailly
The attacking midfielder continued his sensational form by scoring 12 goals and netting the winner in the UEFA cup final.
He retired from international duty after not getting called up for the 1998 World Cup
Cesare Maldini, who was the National TeamÂ’s manager had selected Del Piero and Roberto Baggio instead
Zola finished his international career with a total of 35 caps and ten goals.
Chelsea didnÂ’t claim any silverware in the following season, but earned a third place finish thanks to Zola, who was named ChelseaÂ’s player of the year, and FloÂ’s incredible partnership
In VialliÂ’s third season at the club, the blues won the FA cup and finished 5th in the premier table, a result that didn't please many fans.
A slow start to the season - seeing the club fail to win any of their first 13 away league matches - cost manager Vialli his job, despite having won five trophies since his appointment in February 1998
Zola, who turned 34 that season, was still one of the leagueÂ’s best players; finding the net in 9 occasions and showering new striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with assists.
The 2001-02 campaign was the first full season under Italian manager Claudio Ranieri where Chelsea finished 6th in the league and lost the FA cup final to Arsenal.
After Roberto Di Matteo announced his retirement, Gianfranco Zola became the only player who was part of Italian renaissance and still playing for Chelsea.
ZolaÂ’s Chelsea career got to itÂ’s end when the player turned 37 years old
Franco will always be one of the greatest players to ever wear the bluesÂ’ jersey, having won 6 trophies in 7 years and scored 59 goals in 229 appearances
Cagliari Calcio: The beginning of the end
After leaving London, Zola returned to the region he was born in and joined Serie B side Cagliari
Gianfranco captained the side and helped the club return to Serie A after four years, ending the 2003-04 season as runner-ups to Palermo.
The IslandersÂ’ 04/05 league campaign was very satisfying for the fans as the team secured a 12th spot finish away from the relegation zone.
At the end of the season, Gianfranco Zola announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 37.
From a Serie D player in the small provenance of , and Diego MaradonaÂ’s understudy, to a football legend himself
The ItalianÂ’s magical legacy will forever remain among us, because at the end of the day, the art never forgets itÂ’s creator.
Reporter : Karen Fawaz - Life long 15 year old fotball fan from Lebanon
Premier league enthusiast and Manchester United fan.
Source : DSG