17 years ago today, Chelsea signed a little genius

On this day in 1996 Chelsea signed a certain Italian maestro.

When Ruud Gullit signed Gianfranco Zola on 8th Novemeber 1996, no one would have known how much of a legend he would become at Stamford Bridge.

Zola was a wonderfully talented player, and scored some gorgeous goals in his time at Chelsea. Who can forget his cheeky back-heel flick from a corner against Norwich City? That goal came when he was 35 as well. In his first season he scored a great goal past Manchester United jinking in between the defenders before slotting the ball past Peter Schmeichel.

Zola was signed for a bargain of £4.5 million. He went on to score 80 goals in 312 games, and will have played his part in many other goals too. Despite only joining in November of 1996, he went on to win the Footballer of the Year award at the end of the 1996-1997 season. A remarkable achievement and the only person to have done so without being in the league for the full season.

Another highlight of Zola's time at the club was when he came off the bench to score a late winner for Chelsea in the Cup Winners' Cup Final against Stuttgart in 1998. He had played a big part in getting them to the final but due to an injury could only make the bench. He made his impact straight away from the bench scoring with pretty much his first touch.

Such the impression that Gianfranco had on the Chelsea faithful, in 2003 he was voted the club's greatest ever player. Since his departure from the club nobody has ever occupied his number 25 shirt.

Zola has since gone on to manage West Ham United and Watford. He is currently impressing at the latter and almost guided them into the Premier League at the first attempt last season. They lost to Crystal Palace in the Championship Play-off final. They are going strong in the league again this season, and many have touted Zola to come back to the club as manager in the future.

Many wanted him to join Roberto Di Matteo's backroom staff when he was in charge. That was not to be, but if Zola can continue his progress with Watford, then the possibility of becoming Chelsea manager in the future may arise again.

I'll leave you with this, enjoy....

Is Gianfranco Zola the greatest player to have ever played for Chelsea?

images: © aromano, © Jason Bagley, © aromano

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