Gianfranco Zola has come home. Fifteen years after calling time on his Chelsea career, the little magician has returned to Stamford Bridge in a coaching role, agreeing to become new head coach Maurizio Sarri’s assistant. The Blues legend returns to Stamford Bridge 15 years after making the last of his 312 appearances for the club. Zola had been spotted earlier in Chelsea TV’s footage of Chelsea’s final training session before departing for Australia on a pre-season tour, confirming weeks and weeks of rumours of him coming back to the club.
Once a Blue, always a Blue! ?
Gianfranco Zola will join Maurizio Sarri's backroom team as Assistant first team coach! Welcome home, Gianfranco!
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) July 18, 2018
Zola, who scored 80 goals for Chelsea between 1996 and 2003, won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup, two FA Cups and the League Cup. Zola also played club football for Napoli and Parma and won 35 caps for Italy. As a coach, The 52-year-old has had management experience in England with West Ham, Watford and Birmingham City who he recently left in April 2017 with the team just above the relegation zone.
He told Chelsea’s official website on Wednesday evening: “For me, it is an amazing thing. I am very willing to work hard because it is going to be a difficult challenge but I am pleased to be here, and to work hard with Maurizio to be successful. It would be great to be successful with Maurizio and for the club and I will give my best, as I did in the past as a player, so I will give my best in my new position. I am very much looking forward to the challenge in general. I would love us to start well and we are all very excited to start this new adventure.”
The news came on the same day that former Napoli boss Sarri had his unveiling at Stamford Bridge, having replaced Antonio Conte. Chelsea’s failure to qualify for the Champions League will not aid Sarri’s cause but he is hopeful his coaching methods can convince the pair to stay.
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 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. 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. 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. In 2005, Zola was voted into the Chelsea F.C. Centenary Eleven.
Zola will be involved in coaching Nigerian winger Victor Moses. During his playing days, it will be remembered that Zola played in the Italy team that eliminated Nigeria’s Super Eagles from the 1994 World Cup in the USA. At the second round stage of the tournament, Italy was pitched against Nigeria and Gianfranco Zola after replacing Signori was involved in the match’s most controversial moment. Zola had been on the field for over 10 minutes when he was battling with Augustine Eguavoen for the ball. The Nigerian right-back pushed Zola off the ball and when the Sardinian jumped in front of Eguavoen, the defender fell backwards and feigned an injury by holding his face. To Zola’s disbelief, Mexican referee Arturo Brizio Carter showed a straight red card. The forward fell to his knees, folded his arms and dropped his head. Zola was a clean player with no reputation for cynical play or diving.