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Gianfranco Zola departs Chelsea

Gianfranco Zola is to leave Chelsea following a season back at Stamford Bridge as an assistant first team coach.

The Blues legend returned last July to form part of Maurizio Sarri’s backroom staff. He played an important role assisting his compatriot as Sarri adapted to English football and Chelsea, and also on the training pitches at Cobham using his expertise gained over many years at the top of the game.

The season proved successful as we finished third and triumphed in the Europa League, meaning Zola could add another winner’s medal to the four he picked up as a player at Stamford Bridge.

Zola, one of the club’s greatest players of all-time, initially moved to Chelsea in November 1996 from Parma, ending 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 was also named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year.

Over the course of his playing time at Stamford Bridge, Zola, who was voted Chelsea Player of the Year on two occasions, was renowned for his ability to score spectacular goals, 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. He raced on to a Dennis Wise pass and finished brilliantly just seconds after coming off the bench, sealing a 1-0 win over Stuttgart.

After 312 Chelsea appearances he eventually departed 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 recently player-managed Chelsea Legends in a high-scoring game against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Everybody at Chelsea would like to thank Gianfranco for his contribution to a successful season at the Bridge and we wish him the very best of luck in the next chapter of his career. He will of course always be welcome back.

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