1966 A week before the 1966 World Cup kicked-off, Gianfranco Zola was born on 5 July 1966 in Oliena, Italy.
1980 Zola began his football education at his local side Corrasi Oliena in 1980 and remained a part of the team until 1983.
1984 The Italian joined his first professional football team, Nuorese in 1984; during his two year stay at the club he scored 10 goals.
1986 He moved to Sassari-based Torres where he played for three seasons.
1989 The elegant attacking midfielder, who played the supporting striker role with equal aplomb, made his first big move when he joined Napoli, and then started featuring in the Italian top division, Serie A.
Napoli, in that era was a powerhouse in Italian football boasting luminaries like Diego Maradona and Careca among others in their ranks.
On his signing, Maradona jovially declared: “Finally they have bought someone shorter than me!”
But who could have known that the “shorter guy” will also be counted among the greatest legends of the game.
1990 Zola scored two goals in the league in his inaugural season at Napoli, Maradona scored 16 to lead them to the Scudetto, which turned out to be the only league title of Zola’s career.
Playing with legendary Argentine, Zola made full use of close access to him, he famously said: “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.”
In the absence of Maradona, who was serving a drug ban at the time, Zola led the attacking responsibilities along with the Brazilian forward Careca to win the Italian Super Cup for Napoli.
1991 In November, Zola made his national team debut when the legendary Arrigo Sacchi called him for a friendly against Norway.
In a telling endorsement of the diminutive Italian, when Maradona left Napoli that same year, he said of his friend, “Napoli doesn’t need to look for anyone to replace me, the team already has Zola!”
1993 When poor financial conditions forced Napoli to sell its biggest names, Zola joined Parma, a team challenging for the league title in those days.
At Parma, he established himself as one of the most creative players in Italy and was in the august company of stalwarts like Alessandro del Piero, Roberto Baggio and Hristov Stoichkov.
Brilliant Goal by the little Italian
In his first season at Parma, he top scored 18 league goals, and guided them to the UEFA Super Cup title.
1995 Zola won his first major European title (the UEFA Cup) when Parma defeated fellow Italians Juventus 2-1 over two legs in the final, Baggio bagged both the goals for the champions.
1996 A creator and goal scorer supreme, he was unable to fit into new manager Carlo Ancelotti’s team and after scoring 49 goals in 102 appearances for Parma he moved to London.
In November, Ruud Gullit signed him for Chelsea for £4.5m.
England took full notice of his skills when he started scoring and setting up goals of such pristine quality the likes of which were never seen in the English Isles. Look at this goal for instance:
Gianfranco Zola owning the defender
Zola began his goal scoring for the Stamford Bridge-based outfit with a free-kick against Everton, and continued it with a goal against West Ham. A week later he scored both goals against Aston Villa and in January fired home his first goal in the FA Cup when Chelsea faced West Bromwich Albion.
The legend of Gianfranco Zola began its ascent among the Chelsea faithful.
Can a freekick be more perfect?
1997 The Italian collected his first trophy for Chelsea with a FA Cup final win over Middlesbrough.
His stunning individual displays in his inaugural season at Stamford Bridge saw him collect the FWA Player of the Year award, in the process he became the first Chelsea player to win the award.
1998 It was one of the most successful years for Zola in terms of the trophies won, he led Chelsea to the League Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Super Cup wins.
In the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Stuttgart, he was sidelined due to injury, but making a substitute appearance he scored the deciding goal with his second touch of the match in the 71st minute.
2000 His free-kick assist to Roberto de Matteo in the final against Aston Villa turned out to be the match winning goal and Zola collected his second FA Cup winner’s medal.
In the FA Cup tie against Norwich City he scored a memorable back-heel goal, which was described by the-then Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri as ‘fantasy’.
2003 In his last year in London, he scored 16 goals, and helped the team qualify for the Champions League. For his performance he was awarded Chelsea’s player of the year.
That same year, in a poll, Chelsea fans voted Zola the best ever Chelsea player.
Here’s him toying with Carragher.
2003 Zola returned to his native Sardinia and helped the region’s biggest club, Cagliari achieve promotion to Serie A.
2005 At the end of 2004/05 season Zola retired. True to character, in his last ever professional game he scored a double against Juventus.
An 88th minute equalizer against the ‘Old Lady’
Zola’s number 25 jersey has not been given to any other player after his departure, prompting some to speculate that the number has been retired in honour of the greatest Chelsea player in history.
2014 After the sacking of Zdenek Zeman, Cagliari appointed its fan favourite Zola as manager, in his new stint he will look to steer the Rossoblu clear of relegation mire.
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