Parma, 20 September 2018 – He was known as the Magic Box because he knew how to produce something special out of nowhere. He was given this name at Chelsea, but wherever he went he left his mark and became loved – including at Parma and Cagliari. Gianfranco Zola is this week’s Old Flame ahead of the Crociati’s next match at the Tardini on Saturday at 15:00 CEST.

Born on 5 July 1966 in Oliena (Nuoro), his football career really lifted off at Torres: here he won the Serie C2 title in 1987 and scored eight goals in 30 appearances in the process. The following season, the team just missed out on promotion to Serie B, with Zola scoring 11 goals in 34 games.

He was then signed by Napoli in 1989. He immediately became an important player in the team, so much so that Napoli secured the league title in Zola’s first year there. Zola contributed to this success by scoring two goals. The following year his team won the Italian Super Cup, but aside from the team’s success these were important years for Zola in terms of his football education: the young player got to play alongside greats such as Maradona, Careca and Alemao. Zola was particularly inspired by El Pibe and the technique he used for free-kicks – the Italian would use what he had learnt over the course of his career. When Maradona left, Zola made the number ten shirt his own at Napoli: in his four years in Naples he played 105 games and scored 32 goals.

Zola became a Parma player in the 1993/94 season. His partnership with Asprilla up front contributed to the Crociati’s success in the mid-1990s: a European Super Cup win in 1993, European Cup Winners’ Cup finalists in 1994, as well as a UEFA Cup win and second place finish in Serie A in 1995. Zola scored some goals that will live long in Parma fans’ memories, such as this free-kick against Juventus in the 1993/94 season.


After 102 games and 49 goals in the Parma shirt, Zola signed for Premier League side Chelsea. He would have further success here, winning the League Cup, the FA Cup (twice), the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the European Super Cup and the Community Shield. He was named Premier League player of the year in 1997 and scored the decisive goal for the National Team against England at Wembley to give the Azzurri the win on their way to France ‘98. This was almost his way of striking back following his unfair sending-off against Nigeria at USA ‘94 and his missed penalty against Germany at Euro ’96.

In 2004, he received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II. This came at a time when he was once again playing football in Italy having joined Cagliari. Zola played his final two seasons as a player in the Casteddu shirt: during the first season he helped the team return to Serie A, and during the second Cagliari managed to avoid going down. Zola scored 22 goals in 74 games during his time at Cagliari. He then retired from football at the end of the 2005 season.