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Premier League cult heroes - Gianfranco Zola

Wednesday 12th July 2017
Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, Chelsea is second only to Manchester United in the number of titles won. Lifting the coveted trophy five times. However, Gianfranco Zola, one of biggest heroes to pull on the blue shirt played before the club lifted their first title in 2005.

In the 90's Chelsea was not quite the force they are at present. They hadn't won the league since the mid 50's and seemed to just be one of those mid-table teams who wouldn't be a threat to the top dogs. However, in 1996 the blue half of London saw the arrival of something quite magical, the little Italian sensation Gianfranco Zola. When a club's legends are discussed there are certain names that will always be at the forefront of the debate and when the topic is Chelsea, you can guarantee Zola is the most heard name. With his skill and breath-taking ability on the pitch the Italian attacker quite literally "got bums off seats" at Stamford bridge so to speak and was key to Chelsea's resurgence before the Abramovich era began.

Every now and then a player comes along that leaves fans infatuated and excited to see them ply their trade each week, the type of player the fans pay their money to watch and none fit that billing any more than Zola did with Chelsea. Zola single handily captured the hearts of every fan at The Bridge and even those outside of the blue half of London in the process. He managed to achieve both cult hero status and be in line as one of the clubs best ever players. So often is a cult hero not necessarily the best of players but are still loved by their fans for whatever reason but Zola managed both. With a leading role in the club's cup winners cup triumph in 1998 and also the two FA Cup wins either side of their European triumph over Stuttgart the club had managed to bring back success after a very long wait. Zola was the catalyst, the talisman and the inspiration to the team and was even named Football Writers Player of the year during his seven-year stay.

Zola left Chelsea in 2003 in an emotional farewell as the fans waved off one of their all time favourites as new Russian owner Roman Abramovich revolutionised the club to make them one of the strongest sides in both the domestic league and European stage. At the age of 35 the Italians fairy-tale time at the bridge had drawn to a close and while it would have been fitting for him to lift the league title with the club, sadly the timing just wasn't right and the little man with more skill and ability than you could imagine moved back to Italy to sign for Cagliari where he saw out the remainder of his career.

To this day his fellow professionals run out of superlatives to describe just how good he was, you really did have to see it for yourself to believe it.
He may not have departed Chelsea as the club's top goalscorer or record appearance maker but he left firmly placed in the club's hall of fame. One of the players closest to every fan's heart, forever more.

When a club signs a somewhat unknown foreign player as they look to build for bigger and better, every fan hopes they have fought the diamond in the rough, Ruud Gullit and Chelsea found the crown jewels when they brought in Gianfranco Zola.
Ryan Stewart

23 years old, Sport Journalism graduate living in Salford. Work in web content in Media city and always looking to break in to sports writing. Manchester United season ticket holder.

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