Gianfranco Zola took charge of Cagilari for the first time on Tuesday.
He left the club just following Roman Abramovich’s takeover, missing out on much of the Blues’ success, and, although Abramovich wanted to keep him in West London, the now-48-year-old wanted to return to his boyhood club Cagliari, and subsequently led them to promotion to Serie A in his first season.
His desire to leave success for personal happiness is one of the many traits that endeared Zola to not just Chelsea fans, but the entire fanbase of English football. His gentlemanly approach to the game, on top of his incredible talent, transcended traditional support, and, much like Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, his departure from the Premier League was greeted with dismay.
The love of the former Italian international in England meant that his eventual return was longed for, and, when he took charge of Chelsea’s rivals West Ham United, the Hammers fans almost instantly became enamoured with Zola. His first season at the Boleyn Ground was a roaring success, as the Hammers finished ninth in the Premier League playing a brand of attacking football that harked back to the glory days of the East London club.
However, his second season ended with the club only avoiding relegation to the Championship by five points, and he left the club at the close of the campaign. The Italian remained out of football for the following two seasons, before agreeing to become head coach at newly Pozzo-owned club Watford, and his managerial career in Hertfordshire followed that shown with the Hammers.
He led the Hornets to the Championship Play-Off Final in his first season, an incredible achievement considering many expected relegation prior to the start of the campaign, although he struggled to replicate the style in his second term, and he left the club in December as Watford slipped towards the relegation places.
As before, he stayed out of the game for over a year, only returning to take charge of Cagliari in Serie A, following Zdenek Zeman’s dismissal. Arriving in December, in the midst of the winter break, Zola took charge of his first game on Tuesday afternoon, but he endured a miserable homecoming - losing 5-0 to Palermo to keep Cagliari in the relegation places.
Club captain Daniele Conti was sent off inside 30 minutes, and goals from Michel Morganella, Tottenham target Ezequiel Munoz, and Edgar Barreto, as well as a brace from Arsenal target Pablo Dybala secured the victory and meant that Zola could not have a positive impact on his second return to Sardinia’s largest club.