Advancing through the list of all time top 20 Azzurri players and No brings up a name as familiar in the UK as the peninsula.
18 – Gianfranco Zola
One important difference between Italian football and that of, say, Brazil or Argentina, is that the peninsular culture is very hermetic. While other countries often send out their players to other leagues, Italians tend to stay where they are, and very few have left their footprint on a league outside of Serie A. Gianfranco Zola is one such player to have done just that.
The deference with which Zola is treated by Chelsea fans gives a measure of the kind of impact Azzurri players could have had on world culture if they had emigrated more often. Zola was idiosyncratic from a tactical point of view, standing as a compromise between midfielder and attacker without covering the roles of the more classically Italian trequartista position – rather, he seemed to play as a wing with tasks also in the centre. An oxymoron, yes – but then again, Zola was known as the ‘magic box.’
Short and elfin, Zola was an authentic eel when on the run, and he possessed a formidable – and often completely unpredictable – shot to pair with his elevated technique. Few give him the credit he deserves for Napoli’s 1990 Scudetto (his game was comprehensibly overshadowed by that of Maradona), but his contributions were crucial and his 80 goals with Chelsea went on to prove his worth. It is only too unfortunate that his career abroad seemed to preclude him consideration among the Azzurri, where he was awarded very little playing time and never had the chance to really make his mark.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time