Blues legend Gianfranco Zola is returning to the club as an assistant to new manager Maurizio Sarri.
Zola rejoins having enjoyed a wonderful seven-year playing career at Chelsea during which he scored 80 goals, including the winner in the 1998 European Cup Winners’ Cup final. He helped us win four major trophies.
About his return to Chelsea, Zola said:
‘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.’
On heading off for the first pre-season game in Perth, Australia, he added: ‘It is a long way to travel but we are very pleased to go there and entertain our supporters over there. I know they are big fans so it will be a pleasure.’
One of our all-time greatest players and a huge fans’ favourite, Zola made 312 appearances for the Blues between 1996 and 2003. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the assistant’s role having managed in both the Premier League and the Championship, and worked as an assistant for Italy Under-21s.
Zola initially moved to Chelsea in November 1996 from Parma, having previously played for Napoli, when he performed an understudy role to Diego Maradona as they won the Serie A title in 1989/90.
The Italian made his debut for the Blues in a draw away at Blackburn Rovers and ended his first season in English football by laying on Eddie Newton’s goal in our FA Cup final win over Middlesbrough with a stunning back-heel. He also picked up the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award.
Over the course of his time at Stamford Bridge, Zola, who was named Chelsea Player of the Year on two occasions, was renowned for his ability to score goals of the spectacular variety, including a host of memorable free-kicks and a wonderful back-heeled volley in a 2002 FA Cup tie against Norwich.
The goal Zola is best remembered for, though, is the strike which secured the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1998, when he raced on to a Dennis Wise pass and finished brilliantly just seconds after coming off the bench, to seal a 1-0 win over Stuttgart.
The technically-gifted forward formed partnerships with the likes of Mark Hughes, Tore Andre Flo and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and was a key figure in our maiden Champions League campaign in 1999/2000, before eventually departing in the summer of 2003 when he joined Cagliari in his native Sardinia.
He began his coaching career as assistant to former Chelsea team-mate Pierluigi Casiraghi for Italy Under-21s, before going on to manage West Ham United and Watford, whom he guided to the Championship play-off final in 2013.
Roles with Cagliari, Al-Arabi and Birmingham City then followed for Zola, who was most recently back at the Bridge in May when he performed for a Chelsea Legends side against Inter Forever.