Friday 08 November 2013
Chelsea made one of their most significant signings of the Barclays Premier League era when they brought Gianfranco Zola to Stamford Bridge.
The then 30-year-old was signed by manager Ruud Gullit from Parma and went on to become a crucial part of the club's success in the late 1990s.
His ability on the ball, his vision and technique, as well as his sheer love of the game, meant that the Italian playmaker was embraced by not only the Chelsea faithful but the wider football community.
Zola was soon plundering goals for the Blues, including a memorable dribble and finish against Manchester United, and helped the club win the 1997 FA Cup final. His performances earned him the Football Writers' Player of the Year Award, the first Italian player to win the accolade.
The Italy international won two FA Cups as well as the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the League Cup while at Chelsea and in early 2003 Zola was voted as the club's best ever player by Blues fans.
The diminutive forward left Stamford Bridge later that year, after scoring 59 goals in 221 Barclays Premier League appearances, to finish his playing career in Italy.
"Zola was undoubtedly one of Chelsea's greatest players ever," said then Chelsea chairman Ken Bates. "He's been a joy to watch and a great influence both on and off the field, particularly because of his great interest with young fans.
"We owe him one hell of a lot of thanks. On behalf of every Chelsea fan I wish him and his family all the very best of good fortune in the future."
Zola returned to England in 2008 to take the manager's role at West Ham United, where he stayed until 2010, and he is currently in charge of Championship side Watford.