To me, what made Gianfranco Zola the man he is, was not his European Cup Winners Cup winning goal, nor was it the sublime goal that took us to Wembley in beating Wimbledon at Highbury, nor even that wonderful, impudent back healed flick to score in the Cup vs Norwich. Sure ‘Franco had all of these skills and more, but it was the attitude that it came with that makes him, to me “The Greatest ever Chelsea player”.
As well as playing the game with a smile on his face, and never resorting to Bergkamp type fits of petulance when on the end of some harsh treatment, Zola’s work ethic was phenomenal. I can perhaps best sum this up with reference to an appearance for the reserves:
2000/01 was not Gianfranco’s best ever season, and by the spring, his first team appearances were limited. Reserve games were typically played before crowds of less than 1,000 at Rymans League club Aldershot Town’s “Recreation Ground”. A game against West Ham reserves had already been won, Chelsea were 2-0 with only a couple of minutes to go.
Chelsea’s attack had been cleared and a throw in was won, level with the edge of the West Ham Penalty box. As the Chelsea full back lined up to take the throw, ‘Franco ran towards him, ready to receive. A Hammers defender stuck to him like glue, but Zola worked astonishingly hard, feinting and jinking, turning this way and that, until he finally got a yard of space to allow him to receive the throw in.
Nothing came of the move, but to see a player who’d truly “seen it all, done it all” working so hard in an otherwise insignificant reserve game that had already been won was truly the mark of the man.
From the bottom of my heart – “Thank you ‘Franco”