Gianfranco Zola (Italy)
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In England, he is known as "the magic box".
Gianfranco Zola, although small, was capable of magic on the field. Born in a small village in Sardinia in 1966, he became the vice-Maradona of the Napoli, Italian champion in 1990, and later the symbol of the English club Chelsea.
With the Italian national team, he had 35 caps and participated in the final World Cup (1994) against Brazil and the 1996 European Championship.
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- Italy - South Italy - Naples
Gianfranco Zola began playing football in Sardinia, the island on which he was born, on July 5th 1966 at Oliena. He played first for the small club, Nuorese (1984-1986) transferring to the oldest club on the island, Torres, based in Sassari (1986-1989). Playing in the Series C league, he was spotted by a scout from Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli, Lucciano Moggi. He joined Napoli in 1990, a time when the club was dominated by Diego Maradona. The Argentinean star, who had arrived in 1984, brought Napoli itsbest claims to fame, winning both the Series A league (a first in club history) and the Coppa Italia at the end of the 1986-1987 season. Zola was as a sort of understudy to the man who was more than a mere football player. Statuettes of Maradona replaced or were put next to those of the city's patron, San Gennaro. Napoli’s fans identified with this poor boy who had become a rich man, but who remained true to his roots, who gave them the chance to make the great northern cities dance to their tune. In 1990 the club’s second title increased the fervour around the Pibe del Oro and that reflected on the entire workforce. Zola’s southern origins helped build his popularity in the stands of the San Paolo stadium. His departure in 1993 was seen as a "betrayal" by the club’s supporters, only a year after Maradona had left. But Zola felt he had to leave a club plagued by the financial difficulties which led it to shed its best players. Zola was certainly one of the best: he knew how to stand out from the shadow of one of the greatest players in football history. In November 1991 his steady influence in midfield earned him the first of his 65 caps for Italy, playing with them in the final of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
After Napoli, he played for Parma, with whom he added a UEFA Cup to his list of titles in 1995. He continued his career in England, unusual for an Italian.
In 1996 he was recruited by Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in Britain, where he played with one of his compatriots, Gianluca Vialli. In his first season, he was voted Football Writers’ Player of the Year. With Chelsea he won the FA Cup (1997) and the European Cup Winners' Cup (1998). In 2003, he returned to play in Sardinia for Cagliari in series B. In 1998 by playing in the only game with a Sardinian selection (against a Corsican selection), he showed his commitment to the island’s identity and culture.
At the end of his career, in 2006, he became a coach for Italy’s Under 21 team, then manager of West Ham in 2008.
Dini Vittorio, « Maradona, héros napolitain », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, n°103, 1994, p. 75-78.
Glanvill Rick, Chelsea FC: The Official Biography, London, Headline, 2006, 416 p.
Marrese Emilio, Zola. Il ragazzo che faceva sorridere il pallone, Arezzo, Limina, 2003, 186 p.
Papa Antonio, Guido Panico, Storia sociale del calcio in Italia, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2002, 489 p.
Parlato Manuel, Da Maradona a De Laurentiis. Trionfi, crack e rinascita della Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli, Arezzo, Limina, 2009, 137 p.